Friday, 16 September 2016

Was Jesus a Jehovah’s Witness?

JWs in Public SquareThey were standing behind their cart, waiting for someone to stop and speak to them. With no obvious attempt at eye-contact on their part so, being in that frame of mind, I decided to break their apparent monotony and ask them how they were. They were well. They looked well, though wary, and I wondered if I had come across as too confident.
'I have a question I have asked Jehovah's Witnesses over the years and none seem able to answer it,' I said.
'What is that?' they asked, smiling. They were very polite and friendly.
'You are Jehovah's Witnesses?' I asked, and they looked at me from behind their JW.ORG emblazoned cart carrying copies of the Watchtower, as though my specialist subject was the glaringly obvious.
'Yes,' they replied patiently.
'Witnesses of Jehovah?' I continued.
'Indeed.'
'In Matthew 6 the disciples ask Jesus, 'Lord, teach us to pray.' Jehovah's Witnesses have, over the years, taken me to this passage to demonstrate that the mission of Jesus was to 'make known and hallow the name of Jehovah,' citing verse 9, 'hallowed be your name.'
They seemed to be familiar with the point so I pressed on.
'Then why did Jesus pray, 'Our Father...' and not, 'Jehovah-God,' as you might?'
'They would have known the name of God back then,' they replied, 'but the churches have removed that name and so we must make it known again.'
'How have the churches removed the name?' I asked.
'If you go back to earlier translations, back to the Middle Ages for instance, they contained the name where later translations removed it.'
'But surely it was taken out long before the Middle Ages?' I insisted.
A quick change of tack and, 'Yes,' they came back, 'it was removed as early as the 4th century.'
'Oh, Nicea,' I said, 'but the name of God was not discussed at Nicea. Nicea was all about the identity of Jesus, the LOGOS. It was removed long before that council.'
Now they looked puzzled, so I continued, 'The Jews stopped pronouncing the name in the Hellenistic period, in the centuries before Christ because they thought it was too sacred for every day use. Whatever we think of that, it is the history. The disciples would have had no idea how it was pronounced. Indeed, the only person on that hillside who would have known was Jesus.
In that situation, you might have said, 'Let us tell you about the name.' That being the case, and if the mission of Jesus was to 'hallow the name' or make it known, why would he not teach it? Indeed, why didn't he use it at all, and why do the disciples fail to use it throughout the New Testament record?'
The best form of defence being attack, they came back, 'Do you object to the name?'
Not at all,' I replied. 'The name is used in my church, indeed we sing 'Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah...' surely you sing that one?'
'No,' they replied still in attack mode, 'but that has been changed to 'Great Redeemer,'' as though recovering a point. (Another example of wicked Christendom meddling with God's purposes.)
'Yes,' I replied, 'but we do sing 'Jehovah' in one version. What is more, I hear the name of God used from the pulpit in the churches, and any good Bible translation carries an explanation of how the name has been used down the centuries and the substitution of 'Lord,' so if churches and translators have an agenda to remove the name they have singularly failed.'
'But what do you have against the name?' they demanded.
'Nothing,' I replied, ‘I know it and, as you can see, I am capable of having an intelligent conversation about it. But if there is no evidence of this being a priority for Jesus, for Jesus being a jehovah’s Witness, don't you think perhaps there might be other, more pressing priorities for Christian believers?'
‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12)
'Such as?'
'Such as the Fatherhood of God. Paul writes that by the Spirit we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Paul taught as Jesus taught. Such as 'your kingdom come, your will be done...' What is his will? Clearly it doesn't revolve around a noun but around a person - Jesus. There is salvation in no other name than the name of Jesus my Bible tells me. Maybe you should think about that.'
Of course, they were not going to follow me home and ask me to tell them more. But what an opportunity to plant a thought that will pop into their heads every time they read a Watchtower publication that blames the churches, or go to teach that Jesus' mission was to 'hallow the name...' By such small and thoughtful encounters are seeds planted and hearts touched by truth.




























Wednesday, 31 August 2016

How Mormon Pictures Reinforce Mormon Error

Jesus in Gethsemane 2

The September 2016 edition of the Mormon Ensign magazine, in its Conference Notebook, carried a note by Elder Dale G. Redlund about the Atomenment of Jesus Christ. It is an exerpt from his April conference address, reported in full in the May 2016 Ensign, p42. Here is the exerpt:

I can emphatically state that because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, ultimately, in the eternal scheme of things, there will be no unfairness. “All that is unfair about life can be made right.” [Preach my Gospel, 52] Our present circumstances may not change, but through God’s compassion, kindness, and love, we will all receive more than we deserve, more than we can ever earn, and more than we can ever hope for. We are promised that “God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” [Revelation 21:4]

There is much to say about this short piece but I want to draw your attention to the accompanying picture. It is famous among Mormons, one might say ubiquitous wherever the subject of the atonement comes up in Mormon circles. It stands silent yet speaking volumes about what Mormons believe, illustrating that they are planting and reinforcing ideas even when you think they are not. You see, Mormons don’t believe in the atoning power of the cross. Mormonism teaches, and this picture accompanying the note illustrates it, that Christ atoned in Gethsemane. It doesn’t get mentioned here – except in that picture. This is the power of illustration.

When a Christian sees this picture it tells a quite different story to the one that comes to Mormon minds. Every time Mormons see this picture a whole theological world is opened up in their minds, ideas that are quite alien to the soteriology of the New Testament. Yet this is what Mormons think of, a Gethsemane atonement, each time they see this. Next time you look at a cult magazine look at the pictures and ask yourself what are they saying that the text may have failed to mention. It can be a very interesting exercise.

Meanwhile you might want to read Another Crossless Easter for Mormons, a piece I wrote some time ago about this whole issue of Mormonism and the Atonement of Christ. People are still surprised when they see how far from the Bible Mormonism is on even this foundamental Christian teaching.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Christians Are Hypocrites

CongregationHow often have we heard this charge that Christians are hypocrites? In an effort to find common ground, build bridges, and identify with non-Christians we are tempted to say, “I know what you mean but...”

However, I don’t believe I do know what people mean when they say this.

I consider myself fortunate to know many Christians across denominations and from different cultures who are not hypocrites but humble, caring people who live a life of sacrifice and service within the church and in the wider community. I do wonder why my Christian friends seem invisible to those who see nothing but hypocrisy in the Church. The Bible has a lot to teach us about this problem.

 

Wheat and Weeds

We start with a parable, one of Jesus’ stories designed to illustrate an important truth. In the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:25-30) Jesus tells of a man who sowed good seed in his field, but when his men were sleeping an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the plants grew they saw the weeds and asked the landowner if they should pull them up.

Wheat and weedsThe weed in this parable is darnel, a poisonous rye grass that looks like wheat whose roots intertwine with those of the wheat. If they pulled the weeds they risked pulling up the wheat too. The farmer said, “Let both grow together until the harvest and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

When people say that Christians are hypocrites are they sure they are looking at Christians? And what are people expecting to see in a Christian?

It is popularly believed that Christians are those people among us who have determined they have a talent for virtue and consequently decide to join all the other virtuous folk who call themselves Christian. They gladly give up sinning, which they never really got on with anyway, because they were too timid to really sin. They buy a suit and a Bible and start going to church because that’s where all the other saintly people gather to talk about all those wicked people who aren’t as good as them. There they climb the religious greasy pole to heaven, competing for that coveted place nearest the throne.

But I know what you’re really like! cries the world – hypocrites!

 

Fruit

Being a Christian is not about having a flair for virtue, but about having a need for a Saviour. Far from being proud of their virtue, Christians are people who have finally realised that they have nothing to offer God but their sin and that they need saving, principally from themselves and their own sinful nature. They have finally faced up to a dilemma described by the New Testament leader Paul; the problem of sin.

Paul writes:

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal.5:19-20)

He then goes on to describe the fruit of the Spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal.5:22)

People instinctively yearn for those things in the second list but all too commonly find something of the first list defining their lives. No, we are not all drunken, sexually promiscuous etc. but again Paul sums up the nature of the dilemma when he writes his letter to Roman believers:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do.”

Like everyone else he chooses the second list but struggles with his choice because the first list better defines his life experience. He writes:

“If I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good”

By choosing consciously the second list and bitterly regretting that his life is more like the first list he is agreeing with the biblical principle of right and wrong. So what is going on? How should he understand what is happening? How can he see and even appreciate what is good but so often fall short of what is required if he is to live a good life? He explains it like this:

“As it is, it is no longer I myself who did it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

This sounds a bit like saying ‘the devil made me do it’ but that is not what Paul is saying here.  He is conscious that his life doesn’t reflect what he would like it to be because sin is so integral to his nature that he cannot help himself. If we are to be right with God then we must all come to this point. To confess our sin is not simply to admit to this infringement or that but to confess I am controlled by sin.

This is not a convenient excuse but a terrible realisation.

 

Salvation

Imagine a drowning person and a quick-acting passer by who jumps in to save that person. There is a definite helplessness about a drowning person and if a “saviour” were to jump in only to find that the drowning person is capable of swimming to the shore then that person is not “saved” and the well-meaning passer-by is not a saviour. You are that drowning person, says Paul:

“Now I find this law at work; when I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” (Ro.7:14-23)

You can strike out for the shore as much as you like but you are never going to make it because the current is far too strong; the law of sin is too powerful. When Paul writes about a “law” of sin he is writing not about legislation that you may choose to obey or not, but about a defining principle in his life that acts in opposition to the law of God and holds him prisoner.

It is not that every item in the first list defines me but that I cannot deny my attitude of disobedience and my struggle to live completely the virtues of the second list. The frustration Paul describes is the common experience. In these circumstances the only hope we have is if someone intervenes on our behalf and liberates us, saves us.

Every religion apart from Christianity has a self-help element to it. Paul clearly shows what everyone knows deep inside; “what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do.” We don’t need a self-help manual, a fresh resolve to do better, to turn to religious observations, or a determination to clean up our lives.

It has been said that if the world had needed education, God would have sent a teacher. If the world had needed an army, God would have sent a general. If the world had needed more money, God would have sent a banker. But since the world needed a Saviour, God sent Jesus. The Christian faith is the only one with a Saviour. You see, if what Paul describes in Romans 7 describes you and me then the only thing we can do is, like Paul, cry for help:

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Ro.7:14-25)

Kneeling-at-the-crossThis is how we become a Christian; this is what a Christian is. Not someone who has chosen God and a life of virtue but someone who has fled to God from their life of sin. We recognise the depth of our sin and the grip that our sinful nature has upon our lives and we turn to him in repentance. We trust him to save us completely from sin and death because we cannot save ourselves. This means that we stop trusting in ourselves.

For many, the obstacle to faith is not a reluctance to be good but a refusal to stop depending on our own goodness.

Sometimes the greatest thing we must repent of is that spirit of independence. Jesus’ greatest sorrow was kept for those who depended on themselves:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Mt.23:37)

A Christian then is someone who has recognised their sin and turned to God to save them. Far from being hypocritical, this is a sign of great integrity as someone at last confesses their need of a Saviour. Of course, Christians are still human and not perfect but in God’s strength they can grow daily to be more like the Saviour who rescued them. As the old saying goes, I am not what I ought to be, nor what I want be, but by God’s grace I am not what I was.

Paul describes us very well:

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (
Eph.2: 1-10 )

This means for the Christian:

We are all sinners saved by grace, experts in sinning novices in virtue. When we share our faith we are not judging people but, as one speaker put it, a Christian is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Mormon God

First VisionThe Mormon God has evolved with the thinking of Mormon leaders. The Book of Mormon, the earliest Mormon text, insists there is one God. In a discussion between two characters named Amulek and Zeezrom we read:

‘And Zeezrom said unto him: Thou sayest there is a true and living God?

And Amulek said: Yea, there is a true and living God.

And Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God?

And he answered, No.’

(Alma 11:26-29)

In conversations with Mormons this is a helpful text. The question is at the bottom of page 235 while the answer is over the page. Asking a Mormon what answer he or she thinks Amulek gives before turning the page can make for an interesting exchange.

On a time-line this teaching comes in March 1830, the date of the Book of Mormon’s publication. This ‘one God’ sounds singularly Trinitarian in nature, although is probably modalist in Smith’s mind:

‘..And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.’

(Testimony of the three witnesses at the front of the book)

‘…And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.’ (2 Nephi 31:21)

‘The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son–And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth. And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God.’ (Mosiah 15:3-5)

In April of 1830 Joseph Smith produced Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which explains the organising of the Mormon Church, its officers, and members. We read there:

‘Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.’ (20:28)

By April 7 1844, three months before his death at age 38, Joseph Smith preached a very different God at the funeral of a Mormon elder named King Follett. This has come to be known as the King Follett Discourse.

‘God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!read more →

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Watchtower Society God

In his Theological Word Book of the Bible (an essential on every Bible scholar’s shelf) Alan Richardson points out:

‘The knowledge of God is not reached by abstract speculation as in Gk. philosophy, but in the actual everyday business of living, or social relationships and of current historical events. God is not known by thinking out ideas about him, but by seeking and doing his will as made known to us by prophetic men and by our own consciousness of right and wrong. (cf. John 7:17, James.1:27, 1 John 4:7.,f 12)’

He cites in particular Jeremiah 22:15-16,

”Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me?’ declares the LORD.”

Watchtower Books

The error upon error of the Watchtower Society is mainly the product of their having sought God in books. This arises from the laudable 19th century preoccupation with universal education and the peculiarly American preoccupation with Adventism and the careful searching the Bible for signs.

It is truly perverse, however, that Jehovah’s Witnesses have always been discouraged from further and higher education, yet they have made book publication and book study their main activity. Since they have long rejected education as a legitimate route for their lives, they have been robbed of what might truly inform their thinking and ended with an ugly literalism in all they publish, read, and say. This is no better illustrated than by their ‘translation’ of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:

‘This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.’ (John 17:3, NWT, Revised, 1984, emphasis added)…read more →

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Book of Mormon Evidence

Book of Mormon 2From time to time Mormons come up with what they regard as ‘substantive’ evidence for the Book of Mormon. When ministries inevitably challenge and refute that evidence, Mormons insist that someone can only know the Book of Mormon is true by sincere prayer, citing Moroni’s promise from the end of the book:

‘And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.’ (Moroni 10:4)

Of course, if you have prayed and received no such confirming answer, the sincerity of your heart, the reality of your intent, and the faith you express in Christ are all called into question. Very quickly you move from their providing evidence to their doubting your integrity…read more →

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Reaching Out to Muslims

Holy QuranRamadan is approaching and Muslims will be fasting and spiritually searching. As Christians, we should be ready to give a reason for the hope within us with meekness and fear. We should consider how we can share the gospel in a way that is understood and, at the same time, make an effort to comprehend where those from the Islamic faith……read more →