The title here reflects one idea behind the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and it seemed a decent topic to bring up as we approach Passover. In particular, while some may quibble with the wording, it is a summary of how Jehovah’s Witnesses approach the issue of how Jesus’ death atones for sin: The idea that in His death, Jesus paid the price of Adam’s sin, one man for one man, and that by paying, through His perfect life, for the sins of Adam, all of us are then “ransomed” from death. Actually, here’s how one of the JW resources summarizes it: “[H]e would pay the wage for Adam’s sin … the ransom would cut off the destructive power of sin right at its source [that is, Adam’s sin — WGS].”
They reference many verses — the verses you would expect one to refer to if you were trying to justify such a position. (Noting that through one man’s sin death entered the world, etc.) But they do not establish the central point: That Jesus atoning death paid only for Adam’s sin and that the gift of forgiveness is extended to all of us through an architecture of “legal consequences.”
And it is a false point, contradicting God’s Word concerning death, guilt, and sin. None of us die in connection to Adam’s sin other than in the fact that we are following in Human Dad’s sinful footsteps. The death we experience due to sin was, indeed, “welcomed” into the world when he sinned, but the death we earn is our own and is due to our own sins, not his.
God sets out the “legal doctrine,” if you will, very plainly in the book of Ezekiel:
“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” — Ezekiel 18:20
The whole passage is worth a read (of course), but this is a great one verse summary. God wanted to make it clear, and He does. Crystal.
“The son shall not bear the guilt of the father”–meaning none of us bear Adam’s guilt. We bear our own.
“The soul who sins shall die”–meaning Adam’s sin earned his death, not mine and not yours. My sin earns mine. Your sin earns yours.
“The wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself”–meaning Adam’s wickedness is on Adam. Mine is on me. Yours is on you.
Sin entered the world through Adam–true. But I didn’t have to dance with it, myself. But I have.
In contrast to that faulty idea of atonement, the one Mr. Armstrong made so plain is so much more sensible: Only the Eternal, Divine Creator’s death was sufficient to cover all of ours.
John 1:1 — translated accurately — says that the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, existing as the Word, the Logos, “was with God” and “was God.” If John did not believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ and His equality with God (which He did not claw at, desperately, to keep it but, rather, gave it up willingly for us and emptied Himself: Phil. 2:6), then this is one of the most poorly written statements in the entire Bible. But knowing the truth — that there are two Persons in the Divine Family that is God — John 1:1 shows itself for what it is: a beautiful poetic statement of a beautiful and remarkable truth. (And it is a truth with profound implications for all of us.)
With that understood, we can see how three days and three nights in the grave for the Son of God, our Creator (John 1:3; Col. 1:16), can pay the price of eternal death for all of us. No life was worth more. And the death of an infinite life there on Calvary, for however long it would have been, is enough to pay the price for all the sin we could ever have committed in all of our little finite lives combined.
[Sort-of-side note… That, to me, provided an answer, however speculative, that used to allude me, to a question that vexed my little math brain: If the ultimate penalty of sin is eternal death, how could a death that lasted only 3 days pay that price? No problem: The death of the Eternal, for however long at all, is the ending of an eternal life. That the Eternal, Himself, who inhabits eternity, is the one who died, what death of a finite creature–even an unending one–could ever compare? His taste of death (Heb. 2:9) was more than all the death I could ever drink in. If you will forgive the math-ish slang: Whether you look at it as ∞ × n = ∞ or n × ∞ = ∞, the result is still ∞.]
Claiming Jesus Christ is a created being is heresy, and it is heresy for very good reason. It not only robs the Son of God of all that is due Him — all that His Father and ours wants recognized in Him — but it also robs His atonement for all of its force and robs our purpose of all of its meaning and significance, as we are to be made like He is (1 John 3:1-3).
For those who claim Jesus Christ is a created being, the ability of His sacrifice to pay for all of our sins becomes a problem. That’s why you see nonsense like this idea that His death really only paid for Adam’s sin, and our own sins are forgiven through some legal architecture.
But it is a legal architecture that is contradicted by God’s Word. As God makes plain through Ezekiel, we all die for our own sins, and we do not bear the guilt of our forefathers’ — not even Adam’s.
All this brings to mind two things for me. First, theology matters. The idea that some doctrines, like the nature of the Godhead and the deity of Jesus Christ, are simply theoretical and don’t make much difference is wrongheaded. It makes a great difference. Jesus, Himself, said on that Passover 1,984 years ago, that “this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). If Jesus Christ is God, then it is a stretch to believe that one knows Him if one doesn’t know that. (Seems to me that it would be the equivalent of claiming that one knows George Washington while believing that he is a cocker spaniel.)
Secondly, it reminds me that when I am sitting there Thursday night on Passover, meditating on what Jesus Christ did for me and how I need it, I am in that need because of what I have done. The life I have lived. The choices I have made. The guilt lifted off of me every time I kneel and ask God to forgive me day-by-day is my own. I cannot blame it on others. I cannot blame it on Adam. I cannot blame it on my neighbor. I cannot blame it on my wife. I cannot blame it on my kids. It is all mine.
Yet, the beautiful and magnificent Eternal was willing to empty Himself so that He could take my guilt–the guilt I owned, I earned, and I had compiled over a lifetime of ignoring Him and disobeying Him–and make it His, to rid me of it forever.
It’s Saturday night, and life has finally calmed down a little, if only for a moment! The Sabbath today in Charlotte was wonderful. We had an excellent sermon by Mr. Rob Tyler and a convicting sermon by Mr. Gerald Weston. And after catching up with many folks afterwards, my Beautiful Wife and I had the chance to have dinner with Mr. & Mrs. Oswald from Missouri—wonderful folks and living proof that people can survive my pastoring if exposed to it for no more than four years. (Watch out Ohio: You’re passing the four-year mark!)
I thought I would make some brief comments about the Council of Elders meetings we had Thursday and Friday, now that I have a chance. And it may seem odd, but the comment I want to make is related to the tweet I sent out just as we were getting started on Thursday:
I know it sounds like a line from a beer commercial, but it’s true: I do love these guys.
There really is a sense of camaraderie in the room—like you’re all on the same team and you’ve come together to get something done. It’s an interesting variety of folks with different backgrounds, coming from different countries and different pasts, but all with the same love for God’s truth, God’s people, God’s plan, and God’s work. Right before I tweeted that comment, I had been seeing people come into the room and greeting friends and brothers, many of whom they had not seen since the last meeting. There are handshakes and embraces, jokes and expressions of fondness and concern. I realized that the men I was looking at—in their own ways and their own individual circumstances and histories—had given up a great deal for God’s people and His Work, and were happy to do it. Part of the reason there was a Church for God to bring me into back when I began in the 1980s was due to the dedication and willingness to serve that dwelled in these gentlemen and their wives. And, as goofy as it sounds, I realized as we all settled down and were getting started that I do love these guys.
The meetings, themselves, went very well. We all bring different opinions and different points of view, and Mr. Meredith seeks out everyone’s thoughts very actively. (I can’t imagine being that involved, active, and productive when I am 84. I hope I can be, though I would suspect that my past relationship with Dr Pepper and generous amounts of Mac and Cheese over the years might imply otherwise.) He’s clearly in charge, and yet the environment he creates in running the meetings makes it very easy to share your opinion, whether it agrees with whats been said so far or not. The variety in the room means that Mr. Meredith is advised from an assortment of points of view and insights, and the unity in the room means that he has the freedom to lead and decide as he needs to. It’s like a good family ought to work, and it is a joy to be a part of it.
I’ve said it before, but let me wrap up with it.
Before being on the Council in this rotational spot, I had prayed for the Church and that it would be run biblically, soundly, faithfully, and in love. I don’t expect everyone to be perfect, which both biblical history and common sense say would be foolish, but I do want leaders who are passionate for God’s Word and God’s people and are led by His Spirit. That’s what I’ve asked for in my prayers—and I’m sure those of you in my area have asked God for, as well.
That was before being on the Council. And it is so encouraging now that I am on the Council to see that what I have prayed would be the case actually is the case.
So, like I said: Just a few thoughts! :)
Off to bed for some shut-eye! Everyone starts arriving tomorrow for the Ministerial Conference that begins Monday, and we have the wonderful task of making an airport run to pick some folks up. Most of the ministry is not even in yet, and services today were a record size in Charlotte (can’t recall the figure: somewhere around 350-360 people, I think).
Today, we briefly* cover a different one: Wax Fruit.
(* By “briefly,” I mean not briefly at all.)
Those who claim to be prophets generally feel pressed to have something to boast about–fruit of some sort. Perhaps they are stirred by Matthew 7:15-20.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
And it is true that while God warns against inappropriate judgment, He explicitly gives us permission–even the responsibility–to be “fruit inspectors.”
In the case of Self-Appointed Prophets, their desire is to sell their “successes” as fruit demonstrating that God is behind them and that their “mighty work” is surely the effort of God and not of mere men. But, in reality, it is wax fruit: It looks good on the outside, but on closer inspection, it isn’t the real thing.
This doesn’t mean it’s a lie, necessarily. As we’ll see in the brief list of examples, below, the “fruit” may represent real results of one sort or another. But they don’t indicate what they are claimed to indicate: God’s tremendous blessings, guidance, and inspiration, just like a plate full of wax fruit offers visual promise to a hungry man but real life disappointment to those foolish enough to take a bite. (Unless, you know, wax is your thing.)
Here are some examples out there in the wild from various Prophet-wannabes and other Self-Appointed Ones…
“Look! We have a building! And its pretty! God is surely behind us!”
Ahhhhh… I don’t think so. In the cases that come to mind, such as one in Oklahoma and one here closer to my own backyard, the buildings seem more a seeking to re-build the image and trappings of an empire in the hopes that people will be impressed. The latter example, in particular, reminds me of an “if you build it, they will come” approach: “If I squeeze my congregations enough and get them to fund these buildings, maybe it will impress enough other folks that they will follow me.” And the individual behind that effort is on record as willing to destroy families for the sake of getting what he needs to continue such efforts. And concerning the former example, I have spoken to many who have come from that organization to us over the years (I consider them “refugees”) who said that they were constantly being milked for more and more funds to build the buildings–above and beyond their normal tithes and offerings. They felt liberated being with us and not hearing every Sabbath that they needed to give more (and more and more and more and more…).
In such cases, these are hardly real fruit of a God-blessed work. We don’t see God using fruit such as that to highlight the work of John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jesus Christ.
Not that we don’t see similar “Look at my awesome ‘fruit'” attitudes in the Bible when it comes to such things. One instance that comes to mind is Nebuchadnezzar’s:
“The king spoke, saying, ‘Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?'” (Daniel 4:30)
You can see how well that went for him in verses 31-33.
No, buildings aren’t sufficient fruit of God’s ordination. They might be simply a good sign that you are good at guilting people out of money they should be feeding their families with. Wax fruit.
It is certainly true that God will sometimes speak to real prophets with dreams (Num. 12:6, Jer. 23:28). And a Prophet-wannabe will often be motivated to claim that his own dreams and/or the dreams of others are “fruit” of his personal selection by God.
However, the presence of dreams, alone, is not sufficient, even if they come true (Deut. 13:1-5, Zech. 10:2), and sometimes, to be sure, a dream is just that: a dream–motivated by the needs of the sleeping brain in processing feelings, emotions, memories, experiences, etc., both conscious and subconscious, while the body is sleeping.
For instance, I know of one who claims such a dream, saying that his dream could not have been motivated by personal ambition or concern, since he did not have it in mind to start his own “church” and did not harbor any particular concern about those he publicly called his leaders at the time. However, in personal communication with me several years ago, at about the same time he says he had this dream, he expressed a great deal of frustration at how the leadership of his church didn’t accept his interpretations of various prophecies, although he had tried and tried to get them to see things his way and to convince them of the “truth” and “insight” he believed he had. Given the frustration I felt radiating from him over the phone, I, frankly, would have been surprised if some of that emotion was not present in his dreams, and I would be just as surprised, given the intensity of his frustration and disagreement and, as is apparent now, his suspicions about his own “prophethood” at the time, that this burst of frustration was something new. Surely it had been building over time to come across as it did those years ago. I’m not saying that his claim that his dream was not motivated by personal ambition and frustration is purposefully dishonest — rather, I’m saying Jeremiah 17:9 is something we all have to wrestle with, and what was obvious to me may have been invisible to him (though I tried–in my own, ineffective way, I am sure–in that conversation to help him see the pride in his comments). I know many of my own faults are certainly invisible to me (which my wife and kids are happy to let me know :) ).
Regardless, the point is that such things are among the waxiest of wax fruit. And the case that came to mind, above, is hardly the worst such offense.
I’ve read of false prophets hoping to pull away God’s people claiming dreams of airplane accidents, earthquakes, meteor strikes, et al. Some of them are announced right after such an event (“Did you read about the earthquake in such-and-such place yesterday! It reminded me of the dream I had just the week before!”) and others are so vague that eventually they can be claimed as tied to some event (“Remember the dream I had about an airline-related tragedy? We are watching that very prediction come true on our own televisions today as authorities look for Malaysia Flight 370!”). Regardless, it is wax fruit. Waxy wax. Super waxish.
It’s waxy enough that the Bible warns us that even if some dreams do come true, we are to look to other fruit to verify someone’s status (e.g., Deut. 13:1-5), other verses (e.g., Deut. 18:21-22) notwithstanding (Isa. 28:9-10). And often the Non-Prophet will admit this, directing you to their particular choice of “other fruit.” We’ll talk about that later, but first let’s move on to some additional examples.
“You’ve got the look” (a comment from the prophetess Sheena Easton)
There are some out there who seem to strive to look like a prophet, as if their choices of style make for fruit. It does, but that fruit is of the wax variety.
For instance, I know of one who likes to wear a sort of Jewishy shawl. What does that indicate? That he likes shawls. Maybe that he is cold. :)
Another I’ve seen seems to want to emulate the dark, coarse covering that was associated with prophets in the Bible. John the Baptist wore such (Matt. 3:4) which surely harkened his listeners back to the clothing of men such as Elijah (2 Kings 1:8) and Isaiah (Isaiah 20:2). Modern Self-Appointed Prophets would be looking to make such connections with their clothing not only to such prophets of old, but also to the Two Witnesses (Rev. 11:3). I’ve seen one who imagines himself one of the Two Witnesses who seems to prefer dark suits in what comes across as an effort to make such a connection, explaining Revelation’s comment of sackcloth clothing as possibly simply meaning “dark” and seeking, it seems, to attach himself to his personal divinations taken from heathen prophecies. (For a brief time after watching “Return of the Jedi” I liked dark clothes and thought they made me look cool. But I assure you, I was not one of the Two Witnesses. Neither was Luke Skywalker. I think.)
But looks aren’t fruit. Looks are fashion choices. A dark suit doeth not a prophet make. It is, indeed, wax fruit, and those who are paying attention won’t find God’s ordination “proven” in any way by such things. Zechariah 13:4 speaks of “prophets” who use their clothing to try and deceive others into thinking they are a prophet. We shouldn’t expect any less today.
This is a popular one, to be sure. I know of one fellow who may not claim to be a prophet but he does claim special ordination, so the lesson is similar, and back when he was busy making fun of using television as a means of spreading the gospel in the modern age he liked to boast about his Internet results. His materials actually claimed his website was the largest “Bible-based” website on the Internet, which I found hilarious. The claim was an easy one to make when you consider the question “Which websites would he consider ‘Bible-based’?” The answer would be, “Only his.” :)
But Internet “results” are not only wax fruit, they are low hanging wax fruit, as there are a number of ways to claim such “fruit” that translate into nothing much when one thinks about them.
For instance: “Our internal statistics indicate…” Wow — that’s something that can really be compared to others! “My downloads have sky-rocketed!” And what is a “download”? You’ll find that is conveniently left undefined and vague, since, under examination, it tends to fall apart. “Such-and-such rating agency says I’m awesome!” And even a lazy search of the Internet demonstrates that such-and-such rating agency is not to be trusted and should be compared to other factors. And I am told by his former members that one major organization run by someone claiming to be “That Prophet” has actively manipulated such measures in a way that makes them meaningless. (The Internet has no equivalent to the Nielsen ratings.) “We’ve had X visitors this month!” Traffic is easy. What they do with what they see on our website is harder. And, frankly, some out there are gaining traffic through dishonest means. For instance, I know of one Self-Appointed One who fishes for people on the Internet by directing misspellings of LCG and Tomorrow’s World websites to his own materials. I know another who has, for years, used our own literature and publications, massively quoted without proper attribution or links, as content on his own site (including material I have written, which makes up one of his most popular pages on search engines). Sometimes he will quote virtually entire articles from our magazine without giving the name of the author or the name and issue of the magazine, and certainly not a link to the source. To be sure, traffic is easy when your ethics are low.
What you often don’t see too often with such Non-Prophets is Internet results that are clear, unambiguous, and harder to truly “game.” (Let alone Internet results that actually represent individuals impacted by the truth — how is that measured? A question for later…) For instance, consider social media results. Subscribers to the Tomorrow’s World Twitter account currently number 47,100. That number is impossible for us to create by simply asking every member — man, woman, child, and infant — to subscribe. And by the way, I’m under no delusions: Ellen DeGeneres has 27,800,000 followers — that isn’t my point. The point is that transparent and easily verifiable measures of actual Internet impact are generally disregarded by such Self-Appointed Ones. For instance, one particular fellow (admittedly, a Self-Appointed Apostle, not a Self-Appointed Prophet, but still) likes to boast about his Internet “work” as the most advanced, far-reaching, evangelistic, super-magnanimous, better-than-sliced-bread, cutting edge, whathaveyou out there. His count of Twitter account followers? 721. That’s his personal account’s followers. The followers of his “work”? 230. (Apparently, “cutting edge” isn’t what it used to be.) Wax fruit is easy. Real fruit is hard.
Ditto for Facebook results, YouTube subscribers, and the like. It takes real people and real families with their own accounts to show up in such accounts. And you generally don’t see the rank-and-file of the Army of the Self-Appointed claiming such results. They need the sort of statistics less tied to reality, and those are often a dime-a-dozen and easy to debunk for those who know how. But they do sound impressive to those who don’t know better.
When pressed on these sorts of points, Web-focused Prophet-wannabes tend to backpeddle something fierce… “Well, you can’t count that… and they’ve been around longer… and they have more people helping… and I’m not on Facebook or Twitter or those things… and my YouTube account is pretty new… and, really, this is the only good ranking system out there (please don’t try to verify that on Google–thanks bunches!)…” Really? We’re supposed to consider “Internet results” as fruit and evidence of God’s empowering one’s impact on the world, and yet we have to discount that much evidence of–oh, I don’t know–actual Internet impact? It’s sort of like saying after a race, “Mom! I came in first! You can’t really count those eight boys that finished before me, because they ran faster, practiced more, and were generally better racers than I was. But when you take that into consideration, I won!” Just sad.
And, more importantly, even if there were more substance to such claims, they are hardly the sort of fruit that establish one as a prophet in reality instead of in fantasy. If so, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber would be the Two Witnesses. (Check here to see who the Two Witnesses are today–they change with the times!) False prophets by the dozens–frankly, probably by the hundreds–have massive Internet efforts.
Ah — the bread and butter of a “prophet”! These are common among members of the Self-Appointed Prophet Club, and understandably: If you are expecting others to think of you as a “prophet” then producing actual “prophecy” is a part of the job. John the Baptist may have done no miracle, but he did prophesy based on direct, personal revelation from God not rooted in nor simply interpretation of Scriptures (e.g., John 1:33-34). It comes with the turf.
But under examination, no one claiming to be a “prophet” today actually displays this fruit. Wax fruit aplenty, but the real thing? Nope. Nothing but empty plates.
Not a single one of them actually comes anywhere close to verifying a person’s “credentials” as a supposed prophet of God. Really, not a one. Mr. Armstrong, himself, showed more legitimate fruit than any of them in this area, and he explicitly said he was not a prophet. We’ll discuss more of the ways in which this wax fruit is displayed as this series continues in the future in posts here and there.
In the meantime, any “prophet” out there who feels his list of “fulfilled predictions” is different is free to mail it to me. I’m looking forward to being impressed! But so far, everything I’ve seen is nothing but one plate of wax fruit after another.
This one is interesting, and the “ceremony” varies from S.A.P. to S.A.P.
I’ve seen photos of supposed miraculous ceremonies in which the preacher was somehow “lit upon” by the “Holy Ghost” to make him a prophet and in which the “Holy Ghost” looks just like a weird and not-too-out-of-the-ordinary light effect on the photographic film. Not buying that. In the COGiverse (where most would never say “Holy Ghost,” by the way), some have taken whatever liberties they can to point to a “passing of the baton,” so to speak, and to claim that a position was given to them or that they were recognized for their “gifts.” I know of one, for instance, who discusses a particular instance of a personal interaction with Mr. Armstrong as a sort of informal “ordination” to position or evidence of approval for his current efforts and the role he has taken on himself. I also know of one who took words spoken by a minister while he was being anointed for a minor illness, combined with his specific request to have his level of wisdom prayed about, and who has turned that in his imagination into an “ordination” to the office of prophet — a gift or office the praying minister never intended to convey (cf. 1 Cor. 14:32-33). (For the record, I have heard those same words that got this fellow I’m thinking of so excited spoken in similar manner by ministers before–even when they had not been specifically requested to pray for someone’s wisdom, which makes the circumstance even more unremarkable–but those involved were not under the delusion that it magically made them a prophet.) While the “ceremony” and its justification and (mis)interpretation may differ from case to case, the Non-Prophet will press it as evidence of His special calling and as God’s Stamp of Approval™ on him and his “prophethood.”
Thankfully, I don’t know of anyone daft enough to fall for such tales as fruit worthy of their attention or allegiance, but, still, it’s worth mentioning in the list, as there are those who claim such “ceremonies” as their “starting points” and who expect others to be impressed by their version of events. Too often, such moments were simply the excuse the Non-Prophet needed (and had been looking for) to finally act on his heart’s desires. And, in the end, it is wax fruit unless backed up by other evidence. And, at least right now, no one has such “other evidence” they can point to that withstands intelligent and Bible-based scrutiny.
Then what are some examples of real fruit?
Now, that’s a good question. :) The Bible gives us plenty of examples of good fruit. What comes to mind most immediately when I read of Christ’s words in Matthew 7:15-20 is the fruit of the Spirit, listed in Galatians 5:22-23.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
(It is not to be ignored that the same passage mentions contentions, jealousies, selfish ambitions, and dissentions–among other qualities–not as fruit of the Spirit but as works of the flesh (v.20). So, too, does Paul say right after the fruit of the Spirit is mentioned, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (v.26). Some Self-Appointed Ones have made these things a way of life, sadly.)
This fruit of the Spirit I have not seen in abundance in a single one of those claiming to be a “prophet” these days, or, for that matter, in days past.
The matter of actual, direct revelation from God (as opposed to, for instance, Bible prophecy interpretation) as a proper fruit of someone claiming the title and office of “Prophet” (not just acting as a prophet, which even carnal Caiaphas did (John 11:49-52), but actually possessing the office) is worth its own post. In short, Mr. Armstrong summarized it well when he spoke of one being a Prophet–not simply an “inspired speaker” but one holding an actual title or office as a Prophet–as “one to whom God speaks specially and directly, revealing personally a future event to happen or new truth, or new and special instruction direct from God–separate from, and apart from what is contained in the Bible” (Tomorrow’s World, Feb. 1972). As mentioned above, even John the Baptist, who worked no miracles, fit this description. Mr. Armstrong had this right, and his simplicity and clarity should be appreciated. Simply interpreting biblical prophecies isn’t sufficient “fruit” of the office of Prophet.
Yet this truly prophetic fruit Mr. Armstrong describes is absolutely lacking amongst any today. Some may claim it, but their claims, on examination, represent some of the “Techniques of Non-Prophets” that I’ll post about later. (Again, we already covered two of them here and here.) Such claims end up being a mockery of what God does through actual Prophets.
We could go on, but this post is too long as it is. Suffice it to say that the fruit that some have paraded over the last few decades as “evidence” of their supposed God-Appointed status is, at best, wax fruit. (At worst, it is rotten fruit, but I thought wax fruit a nicer analogy.) It can be packaged to look very good, but on examination it signifies absolutely nothing worthy of the title and office of Prophet. Wax fruit is pretty on a platter as decoration. But it isn’t very nutritious, is probably rough on the teeth, and will surely give you a stomach ache eventually.
Wow–what a weekend! Counselings and baptisms and services and Bible studies and a new workshop yesterday. And then, this morning, I keep hearing about this “bowl” thing. What’s up with that?
OK, seriously, I know what it is: the Super Bowl. So, who won, anyway? The Texas Rangers? The Vancouver Canucks? The Ealing Trailfinders?
OK, I continue to jest. I just like to pretend to be more enlightened and erudite than others by claiming ignorance about the Super Bowl. It’s a thing I do. :) Though we didn’t watch it ourselves (I think at that time I was watching my kids play a LEGO-based video game), the news is hard to avoid this morning that it was apparently a bit of a runaway game. James Taranto of the WSJ posted on Twitter last night, “Now I understand the expression ‘beating a dead horse.'” And, sure enough, I see that the final score wasn’t pretty.
Someone at services yesterday asked me if I had ever heard of a particular internet denizen’s feeling that watching football is inherently sinful, and I had. (If I recall, that fellow likes to claim Mr. Armstrong as an “authority” for his fatwa on the matter. Hopefully, he will one day, for his own sake, rediscover some of the truths Mr. Armstrong taught that he has cast aside for his own self-aggrandizement and treat them half as seriously.) I’ve heard other, similar arguments before. All of them seem to suffer the same mistakes, and none of them prove their intended point: that somehow watching a sport with tackling is inherently sinful and that, without sufficient justification, every verse in the Bible about violence must apply to it. Frankly, it’s the same sort of poor reasoning that anti-alcohol “Christians” use to attack using wine on Passover by applying all verses related to drunkenness to even sober-minded alcohol consumption. Like the “tackling is always violence” reasoning, such arguments represent poor logic and examples of failing to rightly divide the Word of Truth. I’ve written several posts that mention football, some prompted by a question from one of the widows in a congregation of mine and by a fun discussion we had in Spokesman Club sometime back. In the spirit of the season (ha ha), here are some links in the event anyone is interested:
In other news, many thanks to the many of you who took the time to tell me that you appreciated my recent post on “Christians and Heathen Prophecy”! That was very kind of you!
It was really my work on the 2012 goofiness that got me onto the topic. While most everyone I spoke with appreciated the 2012-related material, there were a few rare exceptions. For instance, one fellow took great displeasure at what I wrote about 2012 and frequently let Dr. Meredith and the evangelists (who have the patience of Job!) know his displeasure. (FWIW: His issue seemed to be not a matter of doctrine, but more of an anger that we published the conclusions of actual Maya scholars on the subject, when he had his own personal, pet theories he was going to publish. Thankfully, for the sake of our credibility, we stuck with reality. The fellow in question has sadly left the Church since then over other personal ideas, though I pray he will one day come to himself.) However, as my writings on 2012-ism continued to show up, I began to see more and more interesting things (for the record: always from folks outside of the Church). Once, for instance, one of our TW viewers wrote to the other presenters to explain to them that I was “a very great apostate” for using the television to slander Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, astrology, and what he called “the 2012 prophets.” He seemed to care very much about our program (enough to write the other presenters and warn them about me), yet here he was all caught up in trying to use these heathen sources to learn about the future–the very sort of thing we condemn fairly regularly on the program. I also had someone, surely very well-meaning and certainly respectful, send me an e-mail (actually, more than one, I think) explaining that he loved the Churches of God (he shopped around amongst them, apparently) but that I was wrong in my 2012 article when I said people should avoid astrology and such heathen sources. He actually tried to argue that God approves of astrological divination to some extent.
There were a few other incidents–again, always, I believe, with folks outside of LCG, though one DVD advertisement about the St. “Malarkey” prophecy may have been an exception–all of which began coming to my attention when I began writing about the 2012 hoopla. So I suppose I have 2012 to thank for it. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving! :)
By the way, in the event that anyone doesn’t see the distinction: Writing about the 2012 garbage and debunking it, pointing out the St. “Malarkey” pope “prophecy”, showing how the private Catholic writings of Hippolytus are twists of the truth, etc. are not sin. I can’t find a single passage that could reasonably understood to condemn such–in fact, prophets and preachers in the Bible do similar work in places. But to wallow in such heathen sources in order to divine new information about the future in the hopes that some of the demons may have provided dark insights is sin. The Bible is terribly clear on that, as the verses I referenced make plain. A innocent confusion between the two would certainly be understandable, but any who would allow their personal pride and addiction to the occult to cause them to equate the two are in a dark place, indeed. (Saying that I am simply condemning “referring to” such prophecies and then attacking that idea is a straw man argument and the sign of a desperate person who knows the Bible isn’t on his side.)
Some of you who thanked me also expressed the hope that someone they knew, here or there, who were caught up in such demonic folly might be directed to read the post and wake up. I have to say that I’m not sure you should get your hopes up. Pride was a big enough snare to take down the devil (1 Timothy 3:6). It seems to be working on those who are big fans of the devil’s writings, as well. Anyone who is devoted to “improving” God’s prophecies with demon-inspired writings, for instance, and comes out of it convinced that he is a Prophet and one of the Two Witnesses–concluding that the demons are writing about him, personally–is someone who will need a two-by-four much larger than a single blog post is likely to provide.
Yet, I don’t mean to be negative, and perhaps you would rightly tell me “shame on you” for saying that you shouldn’t get your hopes up. And, honestly, I do have hope. Not that a blog post of mine out here on the back forty and the back waters of the Internet would make “the difference,” necessarily, for someone so caught up in demonic iniquity. But I do have hope in God’s two-by-fours. :) And I have hope in His love. He loves that fellow who was a fan of Edgar Cayce and Nostradamus. He loves the fellow who wrote me and felt that Christianity and astrological divination were not at odds. He loves the self-appointed prophet out there who is busy sinfully divining things from Catholic prophecies about the color of clothes he should wear as one of the Two Witnesses, what the devil’s plans are, etc. And His love is a big deal. Really, when you look at it, it is the big deal.
So, while I don’t have much hope that my blog post would make “the difference” for many who are deeply addicted to such things, I do have hope.
Anyway–I’ve gotten off track! :) The whole point here at the end was to thank many of you for your positive comments and your kind encouragement. So, thanks!
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.’“
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.“
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?
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.
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 mainthing!), 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.
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.
This post deserves to be much longer and deeper than it will be, but I’m still going to post it while I have this brief opportunity.
Plato once said, “Geometry aims at the eternal.” For me, this statement was very true as a 9th grade geometry student in high school, except that it is missing a capitalization: “Geometry aims at the Eternal.”
That was an important year for me. While the years leading up to it and those immediately following it were certainly important as well, including the manner in which they complemented my 9th grade year, but that particular year saw my introduction to high school geometry. I had been a good math student, though not the self-starter I should have been, I believe. (Bad memory from 7th or 8th grade there–can’t remember which.) And I enjoyed math to a certain extent, I think. I remember in Algebra I class in Middle School finishing my work early and being allowed by the teacher to peruse some of the books on her shelf. The books were beyond me, to be sure, but the symbols I discovered there fascinated me and introduced me to the concept of mathematics as a language. I think it was the moment that I moved into a real interest in the subject, though not to the extent this would be true later.
But it was the next year–in Geometry class with Mrs. Paula Russell–that things really changed. I’m not sure if it is still as prominent today (this was before “Informal Geometry” had really caught on), but proofs were still a HUGE part of high school geometry work: assuming postulates, proving theorems, etc.
Seeing a mathematics based on clearly defined assumptions, using those to prove theorems–more complicated and less obvious statements–and then building on those theorems to prove other theorems, etc. was something transformative for me. Though mathematical points, lines, and planes were abstractions and not truly real world objects, it felt as if I were in a completely new universe with new objects to play with and examine. Yet, it wasn’t that it was a new universe that was somehow unrelated to our own. Quite the contrary: It seemed a deeper universe–something more fundamental, on which our own universe was built. A bright, glorious, beautiful place, where the pillars of reality might be seen and touched and felt in some magical way.
I had always been a “science kid” as far back as I can remember, and the idea that we live in a universe that could be mathematically described was not new. But the fact that this is an extraordinary reality about the world had not struck me, perhaps because I didn’t yet see mathematics unshackled from its applications. I don’t know. But I saw it unshackled in Geometry class. For the first time, I saw a truth such as this one I quoted from Clifford A. Pickover on Twitter yesterday:
"I do not know if God is a mathematician, but mathematics is the loom upon which God weaves the fabric of the universe." – Clifford Pickover
I felt, perhaps for the first time, that I was sitting at God’s desk and looking at instruments unique to His own work. There seemed something eternal about it, as if those of us in class were simply exploring a place that, for all intents and purposes, had always existed in a way that the physical world around us simply hasn’t. A infinite place that was both workspace and playground. And there was something glorious about it.
These words and descriptions certainly didn’t come to mind back then, but the sentiment was there. And it came at an important time for me, in which my religious sentiments were undergoing a transformation, as well, and I do believe that this class played an active role in that transformation. That such ethereal objects as points, lines, and planes–postulates and theorems and proofs–could be made so very nearly tangible to me, added a tangible sense to God and His realm and thoughts to me, as well. The order in His Creation became so much more real to me that year. Well, that’s not quite right. Rather, my awareness of the reality of order seemed to change in nature a bit. I had known it was there (my science books had always emphasized that), but the fact of its presence became a startling thing–something wondrous and mysterious and not to be taken for granted.
To take things up to a melodramatic level (and I will take them back down in a moment), it reminds me of Job’s statement in chapter 42. It was not that before his trials Job did not know God–I dare say that even then he likely knew God more fully than virtually anyone reading this blog post could claim. Yet, through the trials and God’s lesson at the end of them, he makes the remarkable statement:
“I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know… I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” (v.3 & v.5)
Geometry class certainly did not propel me to such an understanding as Job surely had! Wow, would that be a pretentious claim. :) But, it did have that sort of clarifying and enriching effect on me. The God I knew after that class was richer in detail, fuller in substance, larger in scope, and more different in kind. It’s not a coincidence to me that my 9th grade year was the year God seemed to accelerate His calling in me. It has always been a benchmark year in my life.
These thoughts have been on my mind recently, as I’ve been examining my relationship with numbers — moving from seeing them in a platonic “numbers are real” sort of sense to something else — and, thus, with mathematics, too.
And it highlights the role good teachers play, especially in mathematics. I was blessed with Mrs. Russell. In the hands of a lesser teacher, perhaps I would have been distracted by various “school dynamics” and not been free to really discover what an amazing subject I was studying. I guess I can’t know for certain, but regardless — having Mrs. Russell as my teacher was a very good thing, and I will always be grateful.
Beyond that, I think I will just say that you never know what God may use in your life to help you see Him more fully. For me, He showed up in my Geometry class, and my life has been different ever since.
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 mistletoeabove 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:
A happy Thanksgiving Day to all who happen to find their way here over this American holiday. It is nice to have a national holiday every once in a while that we can actually celebrate–all the more when it is one for which the motivating spirit is so godly (even if its more modern spirit is more carnal).
I hope we all take some time from now and the end of the week to thank God perhaps a little more than we all hopefully already do.
I am thankful. I am thankful for the shed blood of Jesus Christ that has allowed me to be forgiven of my sins and for the fact that same Jesus Christ is willing to continue to humble Himself and to live in such an unworthy person as I am. I am thankful that I have been able to come to know Him and His Father–now my Father, as well–to the extent I have in my life and that I can continue to get to know them better, knowing that there is still so much to learn about Them.
I am thankful for the amazing wife with which I have been blessed. Such a simple sentence seems so inadequate to express just how thankful I am, but perhaps a simple statement of the fact will be more adequate than a longer one would. I am thankful for our beautiful and remarkable children. My wife and children may deserve a far better husband and dad, but I am so thankful that I am the one who has the job. While it is within my power, I am giving it up for no one. I am thankful, too, for the health we have all enjoyed for so long, knowing that in this life such a state is not a given.
I am thankful, too, that my wife’s father and mother are able to live here with us, as they are my father and mother, also. It is a privilege and a joy to have them so near and so accessible.
I am thankful for my family members who live outside of these walls where I sit typing. That certainly includes my fantastic sister and brother-in-law and their kiddos, as well as my beautiful sisters-in-law and their husbands and children, and it includes the rest of my wife’s side of the family who I am so thankful to be able to count as my own family. But it also includes my family in the Body of Christ–the additional brothers and sisters that Christ, true to His word, has provided for me over the years. My incredible congregations now, the congregations I’ve been able to serve before coming here, the many I have met over the years at various Feast sites and conferences, those who I spiritually “grew up” with in Dallas and Waco… Some are here in the states, some are far away in other lands. But I am so thankful for them all. There are too many special people to name individually–some of whom would be so embarrassed that I wouldn’t dare list them anyway–but I am thankful to have them in my family and humbled to know that they consider me a part of theirs.
I am thankful for the Church, itself, and for a Body of Christ that allows me to actually see Christ’s presence and action in the world and in the lives of God’s people. I am thankful for the opportunity I have had on the telecast and on the Council of Elders to see “behind the scenes” in the Work and the Government of God and to find that it is just what I had always prayed it would be. I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to see God’s hand at work in the men and women at our headquarters and to be reminded that God truly does work through human beings and that every effort counts, no matter how small it may seem, so long as it is done with a selfless and loving heart. I am thankful for Mr. Meredith, Mr. Ames, Dr. Winnail, and Mr. Wakefield, and for all of those they lovingly lead in Charlotte. I am thankful for Mr. Weston, Mr. King, Mr. Hernandez, Mr. Tyler, and all those who strive to serve the Body of Christ no matter where its members may be located. I am thankful for Mr. Greer, who serves me as my regional pastor, and for Mr. Millich, who served as my regional pastor before and as my teacher and mentor. I am thankful for the lives of Mr. Ogwyn and Mr. David Burson, which, even so long after their deaths, continue to impact me and affect who I am and who I want to be. I am thankful for Messrs. West & West, Mr. Sena, Messrs. McNair & McNair, Mr. Ciesielka, Mr. Robinson and those others whose examples, along with so many at the “top,” mean so much to me–inspiring me, spurring me, and chastising me at the same time.
And I am thankful that my usual, goofy fear of forgetting in my haste something important or someone important–which I surely have done–has not prevented me this year from giving some sort of voice to my thanks here on this blog. I know that this brief list of things for which I am thankful is so pitifully short compared to all I have to be truly thankful for. But I also know that it still needs to be said from time to time. My life reminds me of the sentiment expressed in Jeremiah 33:9 — “Then it shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise, and an honor before all nations of the earth, who shall hear all the good that I do to them; they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and all the prosperity that I provide for it.” God has provided so much for me of which I deserve so little, if anything at all. And it does cause me to fear and tremble a little. Probably not as much as it should where I allowed to see the whole of it, but I see enough. And it is as God describes it: Terrifyingly wonderful. His mercy truly does endure forever.
(And by the way: I don’t mean to boast about any sort of special humility by saying how little I deserve the shower of blessings I have received. I know you don’t deserve your blessings either. :) More than that, so many of you are examples to me of real humility. Thank you for that.)
In this land that has been so blessed, not due to its own greatness but due to the faithfulness of Abraham, may your Thanksgiving be a meaningful one.