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 →

Monday, 9 May 2016

Christian Science: from former member Kathy

downloadChristian Science, not to be confused with Scientology, is officially called, The Church of Christ, Scientist and was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879. The Christian Science textbook is entitled, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” and was first published in 1875. It was revised many times by Mary Baker Eddy. Services are usually held twice on…read more →

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Jehovah's Witness Great Crowd: Reader Comment

The latest issue of the Reachout newsletter, carried an article about The Watchtower Memorial Meal. The article concentrated on the division between the great majority of Jehovah's Witnesses, the Great Crowd, and the Anointed Class, the 144,000, who alone are to partake of the memorial meal. A reader sent in some comments after studying the article and shared some interesting insights into how Jehovah's Witnesses see themselves in the great scheme of things.


'I've just read with interest your article entitled 'The Memorial Meal' in the latest Reachout Trust newsletter. I was  born into the Witnesses in 1967 and remained there until about 26 years ago when I became born again. Most of my family are still in the JW organisation.

I just wanted to point out a couple of things from the article. The 'great crowd' are encouraged to see themselves as having just as close a relationship with the organisation as the 'anointed', the society in every other aspect does not distinguish between the two - neither are expected to have any special 'Jesus bond' their only allegiance from everyone in it is unswerving obedience ( not love or personal relationship - they find this concept extremely odd) to the organisation.

The other interesting fact is when you try and unpick how the 'annointed' know they are in this class - it was only  ever explained as 'they have a feeling' - if anyone partakes when they are regarded as not of this class they are indeed taken aside and firm words (they would say testing out this concept) had with elders who then discuss the validity of whether the person may or may not be 'anointed' - its usually considered to be only very elderly persons who can legitimately claim this. However an interesting aside is that a few years ago the number of supposed 'anointed ones' went up!

The 'great crowd' are fully aware of their earthly hope and encouraged to believe this is where they are mean't to be. To question this in any form ( even as a child I somehow knew I was meant to live eternally with Jesus but couldn't voice this). Questioning anything draws firm interrogation and risks public reproof or being labelled 
apostate.'


Several valuable lessons may be drawn from these comments:

Firstly, how terrible that Jehovah's Witnesses do not have, nor do they expect to have, any kind of personal relationship with God. I have pointed out many times that, where Jehovah's Witnesses use words from the Lord's prayer, 'hallowed be your name,' to underline the idea of exalting them name - Jesus taught his disciples to pray, 'Our Father...'  Where Jehovah's Witnesses are taught to be glad to know God at a distance, Jesus promised:

'If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.' (John 14:23)

The New Testament is shot through with invitation to a relationship with God. When we witness to Witnesses we are not simply entering into finer points of doctrinal arguments, we are inviting them to enter this relationship.

Secondly, one of the marks of a cult is private interpretation, understandings peculiar to the group or individual, which God has expressly forbidden (2 Peter 1:20). Cult members are bombarded with messages insisting they should simply 'know' in their hearts, and failure to 'know' is a failure of faith. I wonder what the Watchtower Society would make of this person's 'knowing' that she certainly is meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus? How would they test that claim? The Bible? The Bible would be on her side.

It can be, often is, a stressful experience trying to figure out where you fit into the scheme of a cult. Are you being faithful enough in enough things? Outward things, such as 'promotion' to places of authority are usually the only measure of your own progress and so the cult typically falls back on routine and administration to measure 'success.' Instructions come from above, you follow them unquestioningly, and hope it is enough.

Finally, consider for a moment, Thomas, 'Doubting Thomas.' Here is a man who famously doubted the resurrection saying, 'Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.' (John 20:25)

Yet when Jesus set his face to go to the tomb of Lazarus, and the other disciples warned him of the danger of going so near Jerusalem, it was this same Thomas who said, 'Let us also go, that we may die with him.' (John 11:16) Thomas did not lack conviction, he simply had questions. In such circumstances, wouldn't we all?

Yet we know that, for a Jehovah's Witness, 'Questioning anything draws firm interrogation and risks public reproof, or being labelled 
apostate.'

It is freedom from such chains, and an eternal peace with God (Romans 5:1) that this ministry strives to bring.