Yum! My favorite: WAX!

Techniques of Non-Prophets: Wax Fruit

Yum! My favorite: WAX!
Yum! My favorite: WAX!

It has been a while since I have contributed to this series, and now that I have rediscovered my blog I thought it would be nice to submit another entry. Here are links to the first few:

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…

Buildings

“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.

Dreams

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.

Internet results

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.

“Fulfilled” Prophecies

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.

Many will claim their list of “fulfilled” prophecies or predictions. But when examined, they just don’t do the trick. It would get into too many details to list all the ways this wax fruit is displayed, and it would defeat the purpose of this series of posts, “Techniques of Non-Prophets,” since many of those techniques are devoted to faking this very fruit of actual “prophecy” proclaiming and deserve individual posts of their own. We’ve already detailed two of them: Using statements that sound profound but which are actually impossible to fail, and making speculative statements that you can claim as “accurate predictions” later if they turn out but which can be downgraded as “only speculation” if they don’t turn out. There are so many more, and I’d rather save them for later. Suffice if for now to say that I’ve never seen a “list” of “fulfilled predictions” that actually serves to bolster a Self-Appointed Prophet’s claimed status as a “prophet.” Yes, I am familiar with that one. Yes, that one, too. Yes, I know that guy says his list is “remarkable” and unique in modern times. I’ve looked at it. It isn’t.

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.

Special ceremonies

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.

Final Thoughts on the Nye / Ham Debate

Thanks to everyone for their comments on the previous post. From what I see here and on Facebook and in some discussions here and there, it seems as though insights and opinions differ, but not too starkly. I mentioned then that I would share my own thoughts, so I will do that in this post.

First, though, a few links. I was able to put together a commentary on the matter for the Tomorrow’s World website. The need to aim at 650 words or less limits what you can say, and the audience will be rather broad (including mostly people who did not see the event), but it is an opportunity to direct folks to additional alternatives, including our own understanding of the biblical record. That commentary is here: “Creation vs. Evolution: Bill Nye and Ken Ham Are Both Wrong!” Here’s the leading paragraph:

When science-advocate Bill Nye faced off in debate Tuesday night against Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis, the issue of creationism vs. evolution gained a rare degree of media scrutiny. Nye had called the teaching of creationism “a dangerous choice,” and promoters saw the opportunity for a profitable public event. Certainly much attention came to the subject. But, amid all the controversy, was there something that both participants missed?

(Click here for the rest)

Also, I thought that Elizabeth Dias of Time magazine had a very funny “blow by blow” report on the whole thing. It can be read here: “What You Missed While Not Watching the Bill Nye and Ken Ham Creation Debate.” My favorite bits of her work were her tongue-in-cheek comments about Ken Ham’s “drop the mic” moments. Very funny. (Well, my sort of funny.)

And the irritated reaction of Intelligent Design scientists was very understandable, and they went to the Internet to make their (pretty good) points. They published several pieces in Evolution News and Viewslisted here in this search. Among them, I enjoyed “In the Ham-Nye Debate Not So Much as a Glove Was Laid on Intelligent Design”–which points out the very real distinction between Intelligent Design work and the work of Creationists–and “The Ham-Nye Creation Debate: A Huge Missed Opportunity” — which discusses, well, exactly what the title says. (They also encourage you to listen to a more serious and enlightening debate between Intelligent Design theorist Stephen Meyer and UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall.)

However, back to the point of my post. In one of his ENV posts pointing out that the science of Intelligent Design and Creationism are not the same, David Klinghoffer made an insightful summary comment: “Isn’t it interesting that Bill Nye chose to debate Ham, then, where their respective views are incommensurable and no meaningful conversation is possible.”

This is a great way to summarize much of the Nye/Ham debate. In some ways it might as well have been a discussion about which spices bring out the flavor of barbecued unicorn.

Yet, there were things to be seen, and each fellow made some good points, not all of which were related to the “official” question being debated, which was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?”

The question, alone, embodies a number of problems. “Creation,” for instance, could mean many things. The implication is that Ken Ham’s favorite understanding of the events of the book of Genesis is “the” understanding, and Mr. Ham spent precious time here and there defending his position not against Mr. Nye’s arguments, but against the idea that there are other possibilities, highlighting the problematic use of that word without qualifiers. Also, what constitutes “viable”? It’s a good word, but “viable” clearly differed in the minds of the debaters While that wouldn’t be enough to make it a bad debate–indeed, the positions could have (and sort of did) revolved around just that point: “What does it mean to be a viable model?” But the participants could have profited the audience with a clearer presentation of their positions on how they individually determine a model’s viability.

However, the fuzziness and lack of focus in the debate was rooted in the fact that each man had motives other than the simple question at hand. For instance, Ken Ham wanted to ensure he had the chance to share his faith to the hundreds of thousands who were/would be watching. (The video on YouTube currently sits at more than 827,000 views.) Also, he wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to believe in the Young Earth Creationism model he supports and still be a working, active scientist. That isn’t relevant to the debate, technically, but is a part of the contention motivating the debate, to be sure. On Bill Nye’s part, he seemed to want to give religious people permission to think differently than Ken Ham and to make the pitch to the viewing audience that America is going to fall behind scientifically in the world if viewpoints like Ken Ham’s are taught to our children. Again, this last point isn’t relevant to the viability of Ken Ham’s Creation model, but it is a big part of the impetus behind the debate.

Those things said, let me try to boil down my observations and reactions to the debate.

Overall, I agree with Evolution News & Views’ statement that the biggest victim of the debate was the Truth.

On one hand, it is great to see discussions of this sort on a bigger stage. Origins should matter to us. But on the other hand, this debate helped to cement in the minds of many, I believe, that these two individuals represented “the” two sides of the issue. It is not a two-sided issue, and these two, together, certainly did not represent the universe of possibilities. Our own contention, for instance, represented in today’s commentary, is nowhere to be found. Intelligent Design is nowhere to be found. Neither is the view of many with whom I would disagree (theistic evolutionists, et al.) but whose views I respect as serious attempts to understand the issues at hand. Consequently, this debate served to simply solidify the stereotype that the issue of origins is a matter of science vs. the Bible. And that’s a shame.

The best impression, overall, on the official question of the evening was made by Bill Nye, in my opinion.

It doesn’t mean I agree with him, to be sure. And both men made points that the other left hanging, so it isn’t as though the matter was truly settled, even in “debate” terms, if you will. If it had been a boxing match, there was no “knock out,” and the match would have come down to the judges.

And if I were the judge, I’d say that while neither man really “won”, the better impression was made by Bill Nye. I thought he did a good job of pointing out that the scientific evidence seems to contradict Ken Ham’s model and he suggested the idea that since there are many religious people in the world who don’t see things as he does, maybe he doesn’t have the Bible right, either.

On this second point, he was weak, and had he done as Ham did (which I will mention in a moment) by presenting testimony from, say, theistic evolutionists–even big namers, such as Francis Collins–he would have been more decisive. It would have robbed Ham of the force of his claim that the Bible must be considered as evidence that his position is true.

However, it seems as though this would have contradicted the heart of Nye’s approach, which is that such considerations should not enter into the interpretation of evidence, at all.

That doesn’t change the fact, though, that his examples meant to damage the idea of a young earth did a good job. The “winter-summer” cycle present in what seems to be 680,000 years of snow fall; the number of new species that would need to be generated daily over 4000 years from Ham’s choice of “kinds” (did his homework there, props to Nye); the pressing of the issue that even one fossil of a struggling animal, swimming for dear life during the flood, showing up in a “wrong” strata would disprove his case and that finding it would make you a “hero”; the lack of kangaroo fossils between the ark’s understood resting spot in the Middle East and Australia… All of these combined to give the edge to the idea that Ham’s model isn’t viable. Well, that’s too strong. They gave the edge to the idea that his model is “less viable than advertised.”

It isn’t that Ham didn’t score points. His comment about how 90% of the other dating methods disagree with a billion-years-old earth (I wish his print had been bigger in that slide), his example of trees being found that were found fossilized in rock, in which the trees were dated at 45,000 of years old, while the rock encasing it was supposedly dated at 45,000,000 old — all of these did have their effect, I believe. But, in the end, they weren’t enough, in my opinion, to counter the weight Nye’s examples seemed to carry. (At least some of his examples. His picture of various skulls and the claim that they needed time to evolve, for instance, seemed to fall flat.)

And Ham’s argument that the data must be interpreted was made well, though I think it could have been made better. Even just a few more choice examples–like the recent case of a single discovery, in particular, one single skull, throwing much vaunted human “family trees” into disarray–would have better illustrated the under-appreciated role assumption plays in building our understanding of the data. If Ham didn’t drop the ball on this, I do think he fumbled it a bit. That’s a shame, because those who are a part of his Answers in Genesis team have serious credentials and could have provided a number of easily summarized examples. All Ham could do was refer to those papers vaguely, mentioning that they are highly “technical”–meant to be a positive description (and it is), but surely coming across to some as a bit of a smoke-screen.

So, in the vague battle that this debate represented, on the issue that was supposedly at the heart of the matter, I think the edge was had by Bill Nye.

On one of the important “between the lines” issues–that teaching kids Creationism will mean we will no longer be able to practice good science–Ken Ham won the point.

Ken Ham trotted out a number of videos of various, credentialed scientists with PhDs in solid scientific fields who passionately vocalized their support for Ham’s Creation model, including the inventor of the MRI. Their appearance wasn’t, in my opinion, strong enough to win the main, “official” question in Mr. Ham’s favor, but they did help to win the day for one of the underlying motivations behind the whole debate: The idea, pressed by Mr. Nye, that we are risking destroying science education in America if parents teach Creationist ideas to their kids. The existence of these working, active scientists in their fields of expertise seemed to be living proof that Nye’s point was too strong–that his viewpoint was driving by either ideological beliefs or by ignorance of the caliber of people who claim belief in Creationism.

That was an important win for Ken Ham, and regardless of the official “result” of the debate–whatever in the world that would be–it was a win for the credibility of his organization and museum.

And given the extreme nature of the Young Earth position, the softer claim–that one cannot do good science unless one believes in evolution–was also refuted by those examples. Richard Dawkins’ statement that those who do not believe in Darwinian or neo-Darwinian evolution is either “ignorant, stupid, or wicked” is simply either ignorant, stupid, or wicked, itself. And Ham did a good job of showing the statement for the lie it represents.

(On this last point, it is a shame that the overwhelming focus of this debate was the age of the earth. Every other interesting element of origin-related discussions was marginalized, I believe. A real shame, and part of the stereotype reinforcement effect I mentioned above.)

In short, if the statement to be debated was Bill Nye’s claim that (my paraphrase) “Unless our young people abandon these Bible-based ideas of Creation and embrace evolution America will fall desperately behind scientifically,” that point would have been lost to Ken Ham.

One other point: Ken Ham also did a pretty decent job of defending elements of the story of Genesis against criticism. The kinds-into-species ratios is worth further thinking, and I think Nye scored a win with that one. But other points, such as his claim about the unfeasibility of a wooden ark, fell short. His comparison to the experience of the USS Wyoming, along with the accompanying chart of boat sizes, was an excellent attack, and I give him credit for it. But Ham defended well, pointing out that other cultures (I believe he mentioned China and Egypt) have done much better with much larger than his example. And his on Nye’s claim that a handful of “unskilled workers” couldn’t have built such an ark–a standard trope of anti-Genesis folks–Ham’s response was a surprisingly effective and humorous dismissal: “Why would you say Noah was unskilled? I didn’t meet Noah. Neither did you.” (By the way, that is Elizabeth Dias’ record of the comment, which she humorously characterized as Ham’s first “drop the mic” moment.) Of course, if you believe that Noah was called and personally spoken to by the Omniscient Creator and Designer of All Reality, there is not an issue with his level of previous boat building expertise, regardless of what it has been, let alone when you consider the stated lifespans of the day. Those points could have been made, but Ham’s dismissal was better: effective, short, and sweet.

There were some surprises that added to both the enjoyment and the frustration of watching the debate.

For example, Bill Nye mentioned the discovery of the Big Bang as a “plus” for the naturalistic science. That is comical, because the Big Bang story is actually a cautionary tale of what happens when scientists are too afraid of the theological implications of their work–a fear which delayed the acceptance of the Big Bang for quite some time. (In fact, “Big Bang” was a derogatory term coined for the theory–a fact that was conspicuously absent in Nye’s discussion of the term’s origin.) More on this can be read in the Tomorrow’s World article, “Where Did the Universe Come From?” When all the information is considered (initial entropy conditions, et al.), the Big Bang theory is powerful evidence for not only a created universe, but an intelligently crafted universe. Even the fad of the day–multiverse concepts–have not diluted the power of the Big Bang theory and its current mutations as evidence.

However, Ken Ham was not in a position to capitalize on this and did not even seem to bother. (Other than in his later “Bill, there’s a book that tells us where matter and energy came from” comment, which was fun.)

It was a nice treat to see Ham make the point that science depends on assumptions that cannot be scientifically proven, namely that the laws of logic are dependable and valid, that there are trustworthy laws of nature to be discovered, and the uniformity of nature in the universe. (To advertise myself, this week’s Tomorrow’s World program–“What Is Truth?”–makes a similar point, though it differs in that the point is made by a fellow my wife believes is more handsome than Ken Ham. 🙂 )

However, Nye could have capitalized on those points by granting them for the sake of argument and then stressing that it is those very three principles–the laws of logic, the laws of nature, and the uniformity of nature–that allow us to extend what we experience today into the geological record to understand what occurred in the past, and they are the reason why the “old earth” conclusion is drawn. It’s not an undefeatable point, but one I think he could have made some points with by using his opponent’s points against his own position.

Bill Nye made some false and misleading statements, I notice, but I don’t think he did them knowingly or purposefully. For instance, he mentioned the Tikaalik fossil as a good example of evolutionary theory making a prediction and being shown to be right. However, since its discovery Tikaalik has been demonstrated not to be the link that it was thought to be, neither in nature or in timing. Also, his argument that nature is not “top-down” like in Ham’s model but is “bottom-up” is under increasing attack within the pro-evolution community. Those points were well-covered in one of ENV’s articles, but it is possible as a “popular” scientist and not one up on the latest discussions or publications, maybe he wasn’t aware of these things.

On the “top-down” model of life’s development–a model much more in line with the idea of a Creator and Designer than modern evolutionary ideas–even atheist Thomas Nagel seems to have moved to search for alternatives to evolution, considering purpose-oriented natural laws as a God substitute. Nye is behind. But, frankly, most public, pro-evolution folks seem to be behind on this.

More could be said, to be sure, but I have other things to do this afternoon!

If you missed the debate, in a sense you didn’t miss much. Nothing has changed. Most everyone who felt this way or that still feel this way or that. But it was a good airing of two particular points of view. There are better comments about the debate than mine, and those interested should shop around the links I have provided, as well as others. For me, I’m feeling done with this! Or, actually, not too done. I hear from my brother-in-law that there is a bit of tussling going on over on Facebook about my commentary today. I think I will poke my head in and take a look. But after that, I’m done! 🙂

Again, feel free and add your own thoughts below.

Nostradamus

Christians and Heathen Prophecy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epimenides of Crete
Epimenides of Crete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One last excuse comes to mind, for now…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But apparently it isn’t to others.

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

You think you have him. But he has you.

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

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

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

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

In summary:

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

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

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

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

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

Because He was born, I do not keep Christmas

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

I forgot today was Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consequently, I do not celebrate Christmas.

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

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

The relevant question is whether or not Jesus Christ cares.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Techniques of Non-Prophets: Got Me a Title!

[EDIT, 11/10/2013: In other way more important news than the subject of this post: No, I have not heard any word of how our brothers and sisters in the Philippines have fared. We do have Filipino members in the hard hit areas of Leyte and Samar. Mr. Rod McNair says that we have congregations in Tacloban, Naval, Hinabangan, and Borongan. Please do pray for all of those suffering in that region—especially for those in the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). With communications so ravaged, it is terribly hard getting word out. How truly horrific, and I hope that those suffering the effects of living in this lost world which cries out in birth pangs for deliverance are present in our passionate prayers]

Not too much time today. We are on the road to Charlotte and my Beautiful Wife is driving, so I thought I would throw up a quick post for kicks – a nice break between other things working on. I actually have a few other Non-Prophet Techniques I’m more interested in blogging about, but this should be a quick and easy one.

Self-Appointed Prophets (or S.A.P.s) sometimes go further than take on to themselves a role God has not given them—however sincerely they may believe He has given it to them, notwithstanding. Sometimes it is not enough for them to drape a mantle on themselves and simply claim to be a Prophet. They also grab for themselves a Very Important Title™.

One of the most egregious of such title-grabs that comes to mind is the case of one S.A.P. who took on the title “That Prophet” from the wording of John 1:21 (KJV) and Acts 3:23. It is egregious because it is startlingly blasphemous. Scripture makes clear that Jesus Christ is “that Prophet,” fulfilling the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18:18. The people certainly thought so (John 6:14, 7:40), but—of infinitely more importance—God declares him so through the divinely inspired words of Peter (Acts 3:22-23, noting that in v.24 he says he is applying the words “these days” and the subject of the passage is clearly Jesus Christ) and of Stephen before his martyrdom (Acts 7:37, noting that he was speaking of the foretelling of the “coming of the Just One” (v.52) whom they had betrayed and murdered, not some dude in our day). That God inspired a specific description of what it means to be a “prophet like Moses” in Deuteronomy 34:10-12—including such descriptions as knowing God “face to face,” and doing signs and wonders moving some to terror—doesn’t seem to enter into the equation.

Claiming that “the Christ” and “the Prophet” must be different because of John 1:25 and similar verses and that these other clear references should be reinterpreted is pure nonsense. A big part of Jesus’ ministry was pointing out how the Pharisees and such were thoroughly misunderstanding the Scriptures. Nothing would motivate a person to see “That Prophet” as himself instead of Jesus Christ other than planetary sized ego and/or a delusion from the devil. It is blasphemy, pure and simple.

Yet, there are other Very Important Titles™ that Non-Prophets will add to themselves. Of great popularity, for instance, is making oneself one of the Two Witnesses. I know of one Self-Appointed One who is apparently very convinced that he is one of the Two Witnesses, based on a mixture of a few Bible comments “creatively” and self-servingly interpreted and on a lot of heathen “prophecy” which is open to all sorts of imaginative manipulation, with which the devil is more than happy to help with (to be discussed another time). Though this particular fellow’s ambition has not yet grown to the point that he has declared himself such—perhaps waiting to see if someone else will call him that so that it will seem more credible (“the mouths of two or three witnesses,” and such)—it is just a matter of time, it seems. (And when it does happen, no, it does not make me a prophet, either.)

Others have no qualms about it. One I know of, currently enjoying some jail time courtesy of American tax laws, has declared that he is one of the Two Witnesses and that his wife as the other. That he “prophesied” many things that did not come to pass doesn’t seem to rob him of his supposed office and title despite Deuteronomy 18:20-22, oddly enough. Frankly, there are lots of Two Witnesses out there. Maybe we should rename them the One Hundred Forty-Seven Witnesses. Mr. Meredith has mentioned that in his long career, he has been “declared” one of the Two Witnesses by imaginative people many times over in the past (the other being various ones: Dr. Hoeh, GTA, and others). To his credit, he never took the devil’s bait. Many who would claim to be his peer or better, on the other hand, have bitten hook, line, and sinker.

(As a graduate of Texas A&M, I must mention one of my favorite jokes: “Did you hear about the three Aggies who went to Charlotte to convince Mr. Meredith they were the Two Witnesses?” Yes, I think that is very funny. 🙂 )

Other titles have come and gone… Various Self-Appointed Prophets and Luminaries of Imagined & Alternate Realities (L.I.A.R.s) have declared or implied that they have been given the title of or are the prophesied individual Elijah, Elisha, Zerubabbel (son of Shealtiel, though I wonder why one prefers the spelling in the Catholic Douay Rheims: “Salathiel”; interesting, that), Joshua, et al. Maybe you have heard a title I haven’t. If so, I’m not sure I want to know…

That none of these who consider themselves Prophets actually are any of these people or have any right to any sort of title is one thing. But the point of post (which I thought I would never get to!) is that it is yet another technique and not just a personal obsession. Sure, it generally represents a delusionary mindset and an incredible ego, but it also adds a level of “excitement” to the Self-Appointed One’s self-appointed “ministry”: Wow, this is a guy spoken of in the Bible, itself! More importantly, it has the potential to lend an authority to the individual’s words that neither the individual nor the words have earned.

It is not that there are no titles in the Bible and it is not that the Bible cannot make a claim about an individual in our day. It certainly can and it certainly does. But how terribly badly some lust after being such an individual! In some cases they must search the Scriptures seeking out what they can apply to themselves. In other cases, they simply seem to have an ego and pride that the devil can take advantage of, “helping” them to “see” themselves in God’s own words (and in some cases, in the words of heathen “prophecies,” as well) over time.

It is a useful technique for Non-Prophets because increasing their credibility—being taken seriously—is vitally important to them. However, they have not earned the sort of credibility that justifies their self-declared “Prophet” status. Consequently, they must seek out other sources of credibility that can give them a short cut. For instance, it would be difficult to earn the sort of credibility the Two Witnesses will eventually have when God empowers them (cf. Rev. 11:3). Clearly, Revelation says the Two Witnesses are a couple of fellow who should be listened to.

However, while it would be difficult to earn “Two Witness” levels of credibility, it is less difficult to twist some scriptures here and there (borrowing a few “prophecies” from pagan sources can help in this, too) and display a few bowls of “wax fruit” (also something I will try to discuss later) to convince others that you are one of those Witnesses. Then, you can claim all the credibility of the Witnesses for yourself without actually earning it yourself. Bingo: Shortcut!

Not all Non-Prophets feel the need to take a title on themselves, to be sure (I won’t speak to the temptation they may have to do so, as I do not know) as it takes a really special level of self-delusion (or, on the flip side of the coin, a special level of confidence in one’s powers of con-artistry). Nevertheless, it is a technique that is on display out there in the Parade of Self-Appointed Ones time continues to present to us.

Well, I said I was short on time, yet, as usual, I have spent more time than I planned! On to other things. My telecast scripts for this week are suffering a good bit of neglect and I need to let them know I still love them. 🙂

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

Techniques of Non-Prophets: Arbitrage through Tautology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New TW Short: “The Gathering Storm”

Very nice. I think we’re getting better at these shorts. Personally, I’d love to make one to enter the contest they announced this Sabbath.

Conspiracy 1

Just another Jesuit, government-owned, mind-controlled goober rediscovering his blog

Howdy! I am not sure (and I am too lazy to look back and tell), but I think this is the longest I have ever been away from my blog! And it hasn’t suffered too much in my absence — there was traffic looking for a number of things, even though I wasn’t writing anything new. I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, let me say that I hope all of you had a wonderful Feast of Tabernacles! Ours at the Lake of the Ozarks was amazing. Many asked me if it would be there again next year, and all I can say is that (1) I don’t know, (2) the overall impression of people who attended is positive, (3) let HQ know if you want it there again, and (4) talk to God about it, since everything depends on where He chooses to place His name (Deut. 14:23, et al.).

The messages were powerful (the ones I heard, I should say; I didn’t listen to my own 🙂 ), and left me really wanting to come home and make of my life something worthy of Christ’s coming Kingdom and something that represents a taste of that Kingdom now. Wherever you were, I hope that your Feast was just as uplifting and edifying as ours was. I’m tempted to dive in and discuss the messages and other highlights of the Feast, but I think I’d rather save those things for another time — give myself time to go over my notes again and work to make what I learned a part of my life and not just my blog posting. However: for the record, it was awesome. My thanks to everyone who came to the Lake of the Ozarks for God’s Feast and my thanks to all who served with me in any capacity at all — you made it a wonderful Feast for my family and for each other, and I pray we take all God gave us and do some good with it!

I also learned during the Feast from my brother-in-law, Wade Brown, that someone out there believes that I am a Jesuit — or, at least, a Jesuit-controlled lackey — due to the fact that our Church falls under 501(c)(3) taxation guidelines (hence the title of this blog post). We laughed about it, because such a thought is, of course, stupid. It’s interesting. The sort of people whose minds are so corrupted and twisted as to swallow “whole hog” the sort of conspiracy drivel that would equate 501(c)(3) with Jesuit control of your church and government ownership of your members are the same sort of minds that you cannot reason with in any way whatsoever. I know. I’ve tried.

For instance, if I don’t make the statement, “I’m not a Jesuit nor am I controlled by Jesuits,” then I will be accused of “admitting” I am by my silence: “See, he didn’t deny it! I’m right!” Yet, if I do make such a statement–in fact, let me do so right now: I am not a Jesuit, nor am I controlled by Jesuits–then the response is “Well, he’s lying, just like Jesuits do!” You can’t win with such people. Their mind is set, and the facts are irrelevant.

Actually, the other response that such conspiracy addicts give is, “Well, he says he isn’t controlled by the Jesuits, but he doesn’t know about the top dealings of his church.” Yes, that’s right. I attend every single Council of Elders meeting, am blessed to be able to speak openly and privately with Dr. Meredith and Mr. Ames and Dr. Winnail and Mr. Wakefield on a regular basis, occasionally sit in (as do lots of folks on their own visits) on Dr. Meredith’s weekly meetings with his executives, and have unfettered access to the individuals who are actually running the Church under Jesus Christ, and yet I have somehow I’ve missed the giggling Jesuit Ninja hiding in the closets of Charlotte, North Carolina. You’re brilliant.

Unbelievable.

(Oddly, the people Wade mentioned to me don’t seem to care that they slander the person they claim to respect: Herbert W. Armstrong. He placed his corporation sole under the exact same 501(c)(3) taxation status up until the very day of his death in 1986. I suppose he was a Jesuit/Government/Reptilian Overlord/Freemason/Zionist puppet, as well.)

And there was a new one I hadn’t heard before: In the same exchange with my brother-in-law, it was claimed by the accuser that the Council of Elders of the LCG votes on matters and is a democracy. Really? Wow… I’ve been attending all of these Council meetings — both in person and in our phone conferences — and somehow I’ve missed every single vote they’ve ever taken to the point that I had no idea we voted at all! Why, the Council must take those votes when I am taking a bathroom break. Oooo, or maybe when they tell me we are all breaking for lunch, they let me leave the room while they furtively spend a few seconds electing someone or voting for something behind my back! That’s it! Why, those devious Jesuit/Zionist/Alien/Illuminati/Government mind-slaves!

Wait, wait, wait… Maybe there is another, more rational explanation… Maybe I’ve never participated in even a single vote in any decision during my tenure so far in the Council of Elders because we actually don’t vote, because we are actually an advisory council just like Mr. Armstrong’s was, because we actually believe in our own doctrinal positions on voting and government, and because the person who said otherwise has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. Hmmmm… I suspect that is more likely. 🙂

(In other 501(c)(3) news, I notice that one person who said that 501(c)(3) entanglements come with government control and force you to limit your message now takes what kind of donations for his website? Come on, you can guess! That’s right! He has now found a way for him to be comfortable with taking 501(c)(3) donations, himself. Wow — this stuff is like the gift that keeps on giving.)

Enough about all of that. It was good for a laugh at the Feast with my brother-in-law (thanks, Wade!), but, frankly, it is pretty sad. The devil has some people so wrapped up in conspiracy hooey that they not only can no longer think clearly or see straight and not only slander people without even the slightest of evidence, but they have also erected an idol of their conspiracies and don’t even know it. Yes, any time foolishness parades itself, it can be funny (I’ve put on a few parades like that, myself), but knowing that the root of it is an individual caught up in the devil’s deceptions and so entangled by them that they don’t even know the spiritual harm they are doing to themselves is just tragically sad. That’s part of why the lies that some of those individuals say about me don’t really bother me all that much. Just watching them flounder so helplessly in their own spiritual, emotional, and intellectual filth turns my desire, instead, to requesting of God that He do whatever He needs to do to prevent me from ever falling into such a spiritual tar pit.

And requesting of God, too, that He help such individuals in whatever way He can. I’ve spent, literally, hours and hours answering their questions (even though they wrote under an assumed name), and it did no good. I’ve spent time digging through online public archives and have sent them documents with Mr. Armstrong’s signature, and it does no good. God is help them, to be sure, if they are willing. But until then, it’s clear that there’s nothing I can do for them but pray.

Wow — I thought I said “enough about that,” above! Move on, Smith! All that gum-bumping (or, typing, I suppose) from one thing my brother-in-law had a laugh about at the Feast… Sorry about that! Moving on!

In other news, even though this blog has languished in neglect for about two-and-a-half months while I played at various camps (thanks for your prayers for those), did a TWP (which went great! 130 new folks!), taped some new programs (thanks for your prayers for those, too!), and worked on the Feast that has just concluded (woo hoo! the Feast!), the blog still got a good bit of traffic! Searches took people to various posts, and it has been kind of fun looking at what garnered people’s attention while I was away. Here are some of the posts people Googled their way to during the last few days of my absence…

And, perhaps one of the most obscure posts to receive some Google-love while I’ve been AWOL:

Finally, a post I was surprised did not receive much attention while I was gone, since it is usually a regular search engine stopping spot:

Actually, someone even asked me about that question this past week at the Feast, which was a happy moment. 🙂

Traffic on this blog has never been a big thing for me, else I would take the time to do more SEO, keyword analysis, etc., etc., etc., which is what Internet people do. (Though if you are interested in knowing how to do that, talk to an expert!) It has been, as I said way back at the beginning, a chance to keep my writing muscles active, provide a place for my congregation members to hear from me more regularly, and to post some TW news now and then, as well as — I hope — a source of at least a little traffic for the Work’s websites, lcg.org and tomorrowsworld.org. But given the weird, eclectic collection of stuff I have rambled on about over the years, it is interesting to see some of what people have been coming across over the last few days given that I haven’t posted anything new for a couple of months.

And speaking of rambling, I’m done! As is probably clear from the title, there wasn’t much of a point to this blog post other than to get my feet wet again, so it has, indeed, been pretty rambly. If that has made it unprofitable for you, please feel free to keep your receipt and request a refund. 🙂

Now that I am back posting, I hope to write again soon — hopefully on something a little more worthwhile!

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Conspiracy 1

Is our society just one big conspiracy?

Great commentary this Sabbath out on the Tomorrow’s World and Living Church of God websites: “Is it a conspiracy?” by Mr. Glen Gilchrist. I know a few folks here and there (not in our Church, BTW) who are too focused on conspiracy theories and who need to read it. A few of them even check out this blog on occasion.

So hang up your tin foil hat for a while, sit down with your coffee, and let Mr. Gilchrist explain the facts of life. Here’s the first paragraph and a link to the rest:

For thousands of years, mankind has been fascinated with the roles of real or imagined conspiracies in the lives of individuals and societies. It’s no different today. When we look at the evils and failings of our present Western societies, it’s easy to wonder if some variety of conspiracies are involved in perpetuating things as they are. The rich seem to get richer; the poor seem only to get poorer. Food prices rise rapidly; gasoline prices rise even faster. Could it be that some master “Oz” character hides behind the curtains somewhere, manipulating prices for the benefit of some cabal of the rich and powerful?

Read more here: “Is it a conspiracy?”