Saturday, June 29, 2019

A Helpful Tip In Reaching Out To Jehovah's Witnesses

  • Discussion:
          -The Jehovah's Witness New World Translation renders the text of Isaiah 9:6 in the following manner:

          "For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us; and the rulership [the footnote for this word says "government; princely rule"] will rest on his shoulder. His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."

          Notice how this text is supportive of the deity of Jesus Christ, something which is denied by the Jehovah's Witnesses. In other words, a passage which says that Jesus is God can be found in a translation of the Bible that was designed to remove references to His divinity. Even the New World Translation contradicts the doctrine of the Watchtower Society.

          If this is presented to a Jehovah's Witness, then he or she may very well be stunned or feel the need to explain away the meaning of Isaiah 9:6. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

On Pope John Paul II Kissing An Islamic Koran

  • Discussion:
          -Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) once kissed an Islamic Koran during a meeting with the Patriarch of Chaldean. This action no doubt resulted in controversy, as one has to wonder precisely what the man was thinking. After all, the Islamic faith rejects the gospel. The religion denies the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. So it is quite evident that Islam and biblical Christianity are absolutely incompatible with each other.

          Whatever the case, there is no wisdom in Christians (especially the supposed earthly head of the Christian church) bowing their heads and kissing the sacred texts of different religions. There is literally no excuse for this conduct, as such communicates endorsement. Christ made an exclusive truth claim (John 14:6). If other belief systems are acceptable or valid, then He must be a liar. But that charge would be blasphemous to the utmost.

          In light of all this, apologists for the Church of Rome have came up with all sorts of could be explanations and appeal to the ex cathedra qualification. But embarrassing questions remain regarding the issue of the pope kissing the Koran. If he is truly the Vicar of Christ, then why would he display so much reverence for a religion that fundamentally contradicts his own? His action so clearly resembles that of an apostate to any mind that has not been tarnished by ecumenicalism (Galatians 1:8-9; 2 John 9-11). Why do Roman Catholics work so diligently to defend this sort of behavior? The rightful thing to do would have been to just admit that the pope was in the wrong. It is not as though we will ever see an imam kissing the Holy Bible.

          It seems that the pope these days will do just about anything to gain political power. That appears to be the motivating factor behind the Vatican associating with Islam. The Roman Bishop definitely seems to be a figure who has charisma. Even today millions flock to Rome just to behold him. Faithful Roman Catholics bow before him and kiss the hand which wields the ring molded for his coronation. All of this is idolatry, plainly and simply.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Co-Opting Jesus For Unholy Purposes

"The New Testament says that Jesus is not only the Jews' long-awaited Messiah but the Son of God, who was sacrificed for the sins of the whole world, rose from the dead and grants eternal life to all who believe in Him. He is the second part of the Trinity comprising the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

For 2,000 years, this has been orthodox Christian doctrine. Meanwhile, Jesus' name has been invoked on behalf of nearly every cause, including some particularly diabolical ventures.

Today's Progressives, for example, brazenly misquote the Sermon on the Mount as if it were the first draft of "The Communist Manifesto." They claim that Jesus would back open borders, forced redistribution of wealth, seizure of private property and, most of all, sexual anarchy.

In early April at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Jesus was even compared to Cuban communist triggerman Che Guevara – a fellow "martyr."

"As God created light – is light – Che is radiance," said Professor Emeritus of Art History David Kunzle, as reported by Campus Reform.

During "Chesucristo: The Fusion in Image and Word of Che Guevara and Jesus Christ," Dr. Kunzle also referred to Che's name as a "sacred trinity of letters" and to a portrayal of Che as "a quasi-divine cosmic force."

The real Che machine-gunned Fidel Castro's opponents. He was not remotely like the sacrificial King of Kings.

[Some] presidential candidates, many of whom make sure everyone knows they go to church, proclaim without irony that anyone who thinks marriage requires a man and a woman are un-Christian "bigots." Also, that pro-life people are "anti-woman." And those who believe in legal immigration, enforceable borders and keeping men out of women's sports and locker rooms are haters, period.

The Left's ever-expanding net has caught up none other than Jesus Christ. Regarding marriage and sex, Jesus cited God's timeless standard from Genesis: "He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'" (Matthew 19:4-5).

What would Jesus say? It might be something like: "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matthew 7:23)"

https://onenewsnow.com/perspectives/robert-knight/2019/04/23/co-opting-jesus-for-unholy-purposes?

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

1 Peter 1:11 Is Biblical Support For The Deity Of Christ

"[1 Peter 1:11]. what--Greek, "In reference to what, or what manner of time." What expresses the time absolutely: what was to be the era of Messiah's coming; what manner of time; what events and features should characterize the time of His coming. The "or" implies that some of the prophets, if they could not as individuals discover the exact time, searched into its characteristic features and events. The Greek for "time" is the season, the epoch, the fit time in God's purposes.

Spirit of Christ . . . in them--(Acts 16:7, in oldest manuscripts, "the Spirit of Jesus"; Revelation 19:10). So JUSTIN MARTYR says, "Jesus was He who appeared and communed with Moses, Abraham, and the other patriarchs." CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA calls Him "the Prophet of prophets, and Lord of all the prophetical spirit."

did signify--"did give intimation."

of--Greek, "the sufferers (appointed) unto Christ," or foretold in regard to Christ. "Christ," the anointed Mediator, whose sufferings are the price of our "salvation" ( 1 Peter 1:9, 1 Peter 1:10), and who is the channel of "the grace that should come unto you." 

the glory--Greek, "glories," namely, of His resurrection, of His ascension, of His judgment and coming kingdom, the necessary consequence of the sufferings.

that should follow--Greek, "after these (sufferings)," 1 Peter 3:18-22 , 5:1 . Since "the Spirit of Christ" is the Spirit of God, Christ is God. It is only because the Son of God was to become our Christ that He manifested Himself and the Father through Him in the Old Testament, and by the Holy Spirit, eternally proceeding from the Father and Himself, spake in the prophets."

Excerpt taken from the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary on 1 Peter

Being Partakers Of The Divine Nature

[2 Peter] 1:4 by them. i.e., through glory and excellence (v. 3). partakers in the divine nature. The believer shares in the life of God by means of Christ and the Spirit living in him (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 2:20).

The Ryrie Study Bible [New American Standard Bible], p. 1550

Monday, June 24, 2019

Was First Century Judaism Legalistic?

  • Defining The Issues:
          -Advocates of the New Perspective on Paul argue that the first century Jews did not actually believe that righteousness is obtained through the keeping of the Law, but rather subscribed to covenantal nomism which is defined by Theopedia as follows:

          "This term is essential to the NPP view, as Sanders argues that this is the "pattern of religion" found in Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism...as long as a Jew kept their covenant with God, he remained part of God's people. How does one keep the covenant? Sander's tells us "the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments." All of Judaism's talk about "obedience" is thus in the context of "covenantal nomism" and not legalism. As a result, Judaism is then not concerned with "how to have a right relationship with God" but with "how to remain his covenant people...Advocates of the NPP say that it was not their works that helped them attain salvation, but it was their "nationalistic boundary markers" (i.e. circumcision, food laws, sabbath, etc.) that kept them within the people of God. Thus, the works, along with the boundary markers were used to keep themselves within the boundary of God's people. Paul was not fighting legalism, but was instead fighting the works and national pride that separated the Jews from the Gentiles."

          To counter this viewpoint relating to first century Judaism, we note the following the points made in the New Testament Scriptures:

          *The Lord Jesus Christ presented an invitation for His audience to accept the spiritual liberty provided through the gospel, apart from observing the Mosaic Law system and various man-made traditions (Matthew 11:28-30).
          *The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector proves that works-based righteousness was indeed present within Judaism in the first century (Luke 18:9-14).
          *The Apostle Paul wrote extensively to combat the error of works-righteousness (Romans 9:30-10:4). He also said that works were excluded from justification before God in order to prevent boasting (Romans 3:27; Ephesians 2:8-9).
          *The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee, testified to his own efforts of obtaining righteousness through the Law (Philippians 3:4-9).
          *Paul in Galatians 5:4-5 places justification and works right next to each other in a judicial sense.

          Following is an excerpt fro the book titled By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification, contributor Cornelis P. Venema, p. 51-52:

          "Whatever the diversity of teaching and practice within the various branches of Second Temple Judaism, few, if any, practiced a religion that was the equivalent of a kind of "pulling oneself up to God by one's moral bootstraps."47 However, the obvious weakness in Wright's insistence that this requires a new view of Paul's teaching on justification is that he (and other New perspective writers) does not seriously consider whether covenantal nomism could accommodate a form of religious teaching that regards acceptance with God to be based upon grace plus good works."48 

          These statements from Dr. Ben Witherington are relevant to the discussion on whether or not first century Judaism was performance oriented:

          "Not merely in 4 Ezra but also 2 Enoch it seems clear enough that we have what could be called a works righteousness based on law-keeping such that there is a post-mortem judgment based on the deeds done in this life—resulting in rewards and punishments.[4] Interestingly in Jubilees while ‘getting in’ may well be on the basis of election, staying in and final salvation is said to be on the basis of obedience to the Law.[5] In 2 Baruch God bestows mercy on those who keep the Law, the ones called the righteous. In these same sources when God’s righteousness is discussed it is not a cipher for God’s covenantal faithfulness, but rather has to do with his just judging or ruling."

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Interacting With A Few King James Only Talking Points

  • Discussion:
          -This article serves as a rebuttal to a post on an otherwise interesting blog operated by Pastor Kent Brandenburg, where he defends his King James onlyism against claims of that translation being influenced by the Latin Vulgate. As is the typical fashion for doing article critiques on this blog, we begin this discourse with a quotation from the author:

          "Those who use a Latin Vulgate attack either are ignorant of the position of KJO or of history, or are just devious."

          The King James Version was for the most part based on the accessible Greek manuscripts at that point in time. However, those same manuscripts were late in history and incomplete in a few places. As a result, the Vulgate was consulted as a source to aid in translation. Some of the verse readings of Erasmus’ came from the Latin in places where he had no Greek text. Stephanus assumed the superiority of the Latin text in various places. Theodore Beza occasionally reconstructed texts using Latin readings. In fact, the reference to "Lucifer" in Isaiah 14:12 of the King James Version was derived from the Latin Vulgate itself. It simply cannot be denied that certain portions of the King James Version were influenced by Latin manuscripts.

          Latin influence itself is not exactly a negative thing. Latin manuscripts are not necessarily devoid of scholarly merit and value. Preservation of Scripture would be the preservation of a Latin translation for people who spoke and wrote in Latin. The Vulgate was translated from the Greek manuscripts available at the time. The primary King James Version only argument is with the New Testament texts.

          "The view of the Protestants and Baptists came out of a pre-enlightenment way of thinking, transcendent thought, that started with God and Who He was. They took a position that came out of the exegesis of Scripture, in complete contrast to Roman Catholicism."

          Notice how the author distinguishes between Protestants and Baptists. This is wrong for at least two reasons. Firstly, Baptists are a sect within Protestantism. And secondly, all true believes across the globe make up the family of God in an equal sense (Acts 2:42-47; 1 Corinthians 1:2). God wants individual congregations to fellowship and help each other in time of need. We as individual members of His church need each other (1 Corinthians 12:12-26), especially in this age of secularization. The problems of other denominations are also our problems. Baptist landmarkism is wrong and divisive. This excerpt is relevant here in that it exposes the hollowness of the reasoning behind Baptist bride theology:

          "The Landmarkists cite their succession as following, among others, the Montanists, Cathari, Paulicians, and Albigenses. Each of these groups taught anti-Christian heresy. The Montanists famously taught a new prophecy, denying the sufficiency of Scripture and promoting new revelation. The Catharist sect (And their Sub-Sect, the Albigenses) taught Marcionism, claiming that there are two separate gods in the Bible and the Old Testament god was evil. It also taught Dualism, which states that all physical things are evil and all spiritual things are good. The Paulicians were a group of Adoptionists, claiming that Jesus wasn’t eternally God but instead became God at some point in his life."

          If one does not believe that King James onlyism as an ideology can be divisive, then take a look at one of the excerpts from Kent Brandenburg's own church doctrinal statement:

          "This church will not associate with liberal, new evangelical, or pseudo fundamental churches and organizations. We will not fellowship with the World or National Council of Churches, ecumenical evangelism, Charismatic, the Southern or American Baptist Conventions, Conservative Baptists, and cult, and church or denomination that differs from our articles of faith, churches that will not separate from worldliness or compromise, churches that fellowship with churches with which we will not fellowship, and churches that fail to practice discipline on those members that leave our church not in good standing."

          Notice how every group of churches is without distinction lumped together with the cults. It would have been much wiser and humbler for these people to simply state what they do believe rather than sweeping away a host of different conventions and denominations. Another problem that arises is the question of who gets to define specifically what is worldly and sinful. This is not to say that doctrinal differences do not matter at all, as truth by its very nature is objective. Doctrine does matter. But at the same time, there are certain degrees of doctrinal error that do not merit the discontinuation of fellowship. There has to be a biblically balanced view of separation and unity among brethren. The two cannot be totally separated from each other. The Apostle Paul spoke of matters that are "of first importance" (1 Corinthians 15:3).

           Unfortunately, it seems that the likes of Kent Brandenburg have a very difficult time with reasoning in categories. Every matter is viewed as either black or white. There are no "grey" areas for these people. The kind of thinking displayed in the quoted excerpt above should to any rational person literally result in a jaw-dropping or eye-rolling reaction. Talk about some resounding and dumbfounding arrogance! Legalism has no doubt split churches and families.

          Moreover, it is not as though the Apostle Paul had the King James Version (or even a specific manuscript family) in mind when he said that all Scripture was given by inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:16). There are simply no passages which forbid us from having multiple translations of the Bible (though not having a primary translation for study purposes is unwise) or get specific as to how God's Word would be preserved. Following are some questions that are applicable to the vast majority within the King James Only Movement:

          How does dogmatically upholding traditions that are nowhere to be found in the Bible not testify against our belief in it being self-sufficient?

          If the King James Version contains the inspired, proper form of English, then how come King James only proponents do not speak it in their ordinary lives?

          If all modern Bible versions are satanic perversions, then how does one account for the numerous conversion testimonies to biblical Christianity through the usage of detested translations such as the New International Version?

          How could Kent Brandenburg's position be the "historical" one, when the scholars and theologians who composed the London Baptist Confession and Westminster Confession of Faith did not even have access to the thousands of manuscripts that we have discovered? How can we know that the men who lived during the late medieval period and Renaissance would have taken his same stance on these matters?

          "The modern multiple-versionists represent a post-enlightenment thinking that begins with man's reason. It does not rely upon the beliefs of God's churches for centuries. Instead of depending on the Holy Spirit by faith, they reject what the churches received for the forensics of scientific theoriticians. They not only abandon an old and accepted Bible, but the testimony of the Holy Spirit through His churches...They reject historical bibliology for the uncertainty of textual scientists."

          These statements sound oh-so pious, but are not established in fact and even undermine the trustworthiness of Scripture. We have no promises from God to preserve every jot of His Word in the Textus Receptus. Believers in the first century did not have these nice leather-bound Bibles as do we folks in modern-day America. First century Jewish synagogues had Old Testament scrolls which no doubt contained a handful of textual variants. The Bible has much greater depth in history and reality than what King James only advocates allow for. Admitting to the existence of textual variants does not amount to a denial of biblical inspiration and inerrancy. His Word has not been lost, but preserved through a large quantity of manuscripts.

          If we cannot trust the earliest extant manuscripts available, then we have no objective reason to trust the later Byzantine manuscripts or Textus Receptus. King James onlyism in all its forms is inherently destructive to the trustworthiness of the Bible.

          Erasmus, himself a Roman Catholic, engaged in textual criticism as he completed his work. The King James translators no doubt did the same thing. Whenever people evaluate the quality of manuscripts, they themselves are engaging in rationalistic textual criticism. Thus, Kent Brandenburg has raised a hypocritical double-standard.

          Interestingly enough, the Puritans preferred the Geneva Bible over the King James by and large. The author being critiqued misleads his audience with an astoundingly bad and illogical historical narrative.

          God originally had His Words transmitted in the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic languages. Does this not prove that God would desire the same to be done in the common tongue for every civilization? It sure does. Furthermore, the King James translators would definitely not object to rationalistic textual criticism, as is evidenced by this excerpt from the 1611 preface:

          "But how shall men meditate in that, which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue?"

          What the King James only position essentially boils down to is the adamant clinging to an extra-biblical tradition. It is a variation of the great apostasy tale, which can also be found in Mormonism. The issue is not so much a disputation on textual criticism, as many within this movement disdainfully condemn other translations for merely using up to date language. Language by its very nature is prone to evolve. It is much better to depend on a wealth of available manuscript evidence than with some vague or undefined "Ecclesiastical Text" theory.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Identifying The "Perfect" In 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 As It Relates To The Charismatic Movement

Commentary:

This passage has been used by charismatic Christians to demonstrate that the miraculous gifts of prophecy and tongues will remain in the church until the Second Coming of Christ. Non-charismatics have used this verse to argue that tongues and prophecy ceased upon the completion of the canon of Scripture or the maturing of the early church. These interpretations turn on the meaning of "the perfect" (to teleion).

What both charismatics and non-charismatics can agree upon is that the gifts mentioned in this verse will be "done away with" (in the case of prophecy and knowledge) and will "cease" (in the case of tongues). They would also agree that the reason these gifts will not continue forever is that they are inadequate - imperfect in relation to the "perfect" that is coming. Finally, they would agree that the gifts were operative in Paul's time and that the time of their cessation was a future event for him. The difference in interpretation lies in whether the gifts mentioned have ceased prior to our time, or whether they are still operative for us, as they were for Paul, and their cessation lies yet in the future.

A careful reading of the text demonstrates that Paul may be drawing a distinction between tongues on the one hand and prophecy and knowledge on the other. The latter two gifts will be "done away" with (katargeo). Tongues are said to "cease" (pauo). The "perfect" will actively "do away" with the "partial." Katargeo is in the passive voice, indicating that the coming of the "perfect" is the cause of the "partial" passing away. Tongues, however, will cease of themselves. Pauo is in the Greek middle voice, which is defined as "an action taken by the subject upon him, her, or itself" (Friberg). Thus, tongues will "cease" of themselves - not as a direct result of "the perfect" coming. If this is the case, Paul is not speaking definitively about when tongues will cease - only that when "the perfect" comes, tongues will no longer be operative in the church. "The perfect" will do away with prophecy and knowledge; but tongues will have ceased at some point prior to that event.

Thus, even if we take "the perfect" to be the Second Coming, this verse does not teach that tongues will be active in the church at Christ's return.

As mentioned, "the perfect" is often taken by non-charismatics as being the completion of the canon This interpretation is possible, based on one of the meanings of teleion ("perfect, perfection, completion"). However, this interpretation seems foreign to the immediate context. As the Expositor's Bible Commentary notes:

It is difficult to prove the cessation of these gifts at the end of the first century A.D. by taking teleion to refer to a completion of the canon at that time, since that idea is completely extraneous to the context. While teleion can and does refer to something completed at some time in the future, the time of that future completion is not suggested in v. 10 as being close (EBC).

Other non-charismatics take teleion to be the maturity of the church, which more or less coincides with the completion of the canon. This interpretation is contextually more plausible (1 Corinthians 12 - 14 centers on church conduct), and thematically appealing:

There is much to commend this view, including the natural accord it enjoys with the illustration of growth and maturity which Paul used in the following verses (BKC).

However, I find this view somewhat strained lexically. While teleion can mean "a state of maturity" when speaking of a person, there are no other NT examples of it carrying this meaning when used of a collective group or abstract noun (which must be inferred as "church" in this interpretation). An additional problem with this interpretation is the fact that Paul says in verse 12 that "at that time" (i.e., when "the perfect" comes), he will "know fully." It does not seem reasonable to understand Paul to be saying that he expected to live to see the maturity of the church and then to "know fully." Rather, it seems more likely that Paul here is referring to a time of spiritual completion - either when he dies and goes to be with Christ, or at the resurrection following Christ's Second Coming.

Indeed, many evangelical commentators understand "the perfect" to mean either the Second Coming or the perfection of the human soul that occurs when the Christian is united with Christ in death:

On the other hand, in a number of contexts the related words telos ("end," "termination;" "last part") and teleo ("bring to an end") are used in relation to the second coming of Christ. This is true in both non-Pauline writing (cf. James 5:11; Rev 20:5, 7; 21:6; 22:13) and 1 Corinthians 1:8; 15:24. Since in the contexts of the Second Coming these related words are used and since Paul himself used telos in talking about the Second Coming elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, it seems more normal to understand teleion in v. 10 to mean that "perfection" is to come about at the Second Coming, or, if before, when the Christian dies and is taken to be with the Lord (2Cor 5:1-10) (EBC).

"But it seems that the perfect thing Paul has in mind must be the eternal state - "face to face" in verse 12 can best be explained as being with God in the new heavens and new earth. It is only in glory that we will know as we are known (John MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos, p. 389).

But in heaven, faith will be swallowed up in actual sight, and hope in enjoyment. There is no room to believe and hope, when we see and enjoy. But there, love will be made perfect. There we shall perfectly love God. And there we shall perfectly love one another. Blessed state! how much surpassing the best below! (Henry).

On the whole, it is probably best to take to teleion to mean the Second Coming (though the maturity of the church is possible as well). The gift of tongues will cease at some point prior to Christ's return, while this sublime event will do away with knowledge and prophecy. These two gifts need not be taken to be miraculous manifestations, but rather the gift of knowledge that allows the believers to grasp and retain the meaning of God's revelation and the gift of prophecy that allows teachers and pastors to powerfully and truthfully proclaim God's Word. Indeed, the view that knowledge and prophecy would lead to new revelations would contradict the counsel of Scripture in countless other places. Spiritual gifts - whether spectacular or mundane - are always focused on God's revelation, now complete in the pages of our Bibles.

Grammatical Analysis:

PAUSONTAI (PAUW) (3973)
  • mid[dle voice] stop (oneself), cease (BAGD)
  • to cease, leave off (Thayer)
  • They shall cease (pausontai). Future middle indicative of pauô, to make
  • cease. They shall make themselves cease or automatically cease of themselves (RWP).
TELEION (TELEIOS) (5046)
  • having attained the end or purpose, complete, perfect; subst[tantive] to teleion what is perfect Ro 12:2; perh[aps] 1 Cor 13:10 (BAGD)
  • brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness; perfect ... to teleion, substantively, that which is perfect... the perfect state of all things, to be ushered in by the return of Christ from heaven 1 Cor xiii. 10 (Thayer).
Other Views Considered (Charismatics):

Objection: In order to understand this statement we need to examine its context. Paul said that prophecies will cease, tongues will be stilled, knowledge will pass away, and perfection will come (verses 8-10). Paul was speaking of a time yet future both to his original readers and to us. When the kingdom of our Lord is ushered in, perfection will come and there will be no further need of Spirit-given knowledge, prophecy, and tongues. They will disappear because they will be longer needed. But these operations of the Spirit are still needed today.

There is no indication in Scripture that tongues would cease at the end of the first century. Tongues are to be a part of the life of the church in every generation until Christ returns to set up His perfect kingdom. Paul's perception was that spiritual gifts would be operational until that day (1 Corinthians 1:7, 8) (from The Assemblies of God website).

Response: It must be admitted that this view is possible; however, it requires that we understand Paul's distinction between tongues "ceasing" of their own accord (middle voice) and prophecy/knowledge to be "done away" with directly by the coming of "the perfect" (passive voice) to be mere stylist variations and not related to the overall meaning of the text. Given Paul's careful use of language throughout this epistle, as well as in his other letters, a stylistic nuance seems unlikely.

If, as seems probable, Paul is teaching that tongues will cease of their own accord before the Second Coming, this interpretation must be rejected - at least with regard to tongues.

While there is no direct statement in the Bible that tongues will cease following the Apostolic age, there is substantial evidence that tongues did, in fact, cease. We may note that tongues are only mentioned in the earliest NT books. Paul wrote at least 12 epistles after 1 Corinthians and never mentioned tongues again. Peter, James, Jude, and John do not mention tongues. There is no evidence from the sub-Apostolic fathers that tongues existed in the church after the first century (see Cleon Rogers, "The Gift of Tongues in the Post-Apostolic Church," Bibliotheca Sacra, 122, p. 134). An interesting sect known as the Montanists seem to have practiced something like speaking in tongues in the second century, but this group was considered heretical by other Christians because of its insistence that its leaders were receiving direct revelation from the Holy Spirit which added to - and even supplanted - the recorded teachings of Christ and the Apostles.

The Montanist movement was defeated almost incidentally as a result of measures the church took against Gnosticism and Marcionism, especially by the definition of the canon of Scripture, which closed the door to Montanus' new revelations (Heresies, p. 68).

While isolated groups on the fringes of mainstream Christianity have, from time to time, practiced something akin to speaking in tongues, this spiritual gift has not been normative for Christians since the Apostolic age - at least, not prior to the modern Pentecostal movement in late 1800's. Thus, the burden of proof rests on those who would argue that tongues have not ceased, a burden that would seem heavy indeed, based on the historical record.

Copyright © 2001-2005 by Robert Hommel. For an Answer Ministries (http://www.forananswer.org). All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Book Of Wisdom And Roman Catholic Eucharist

  • Discussion:
          -Following is a text from the Roman Catholic apocrypha which is seemingly problematic for Catholic Eucharist theology:

          "For truly, the ancient inhabitants of your holy land, whom you hated for deeds most odious-Works of witchcraft and impious sacrifices; a cannibal feast of human flesh and of blood, from the midst of...-These merciless murderers of children, and parents who took with their own hands defenseless lives, You willed to destroy by the hands of our fathers, that the land that is dearest of all to you might receive a worthy colony of God's children." (Wisdom 12:3-7)

          Now, apologists for the Church of Rome can deny the accusation of cannibalism all they want, resorting to substance and accidents Aristotelian philosophy. All intellectual sophistry aside, the point is that Roman Catholicism teaches Christians are to eat the literal flesh and drink the literal blood of Jesus Christ. In fact, the denial of transubstantiation entailing cannibalism is rendered rather implausible as one considers the vivid and keen descriptions provided by Roman Catholic sources such as the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:

          "First of all the whole structure of the discourse of promise demands a literal interpretation of the words: "eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood"...it can be none other than His true Flesh and Blood, to be really eaten and drunk in Holy Communion. This is why Christ was so ready to use the realistic expression "to chew" (John 6:54, 56, 58: trogein) when speaking of this, His Bread of Life, in addition to the phrase, "to eat" (John 6:51, 53: phagein)...The impossibility of a figurative interpretation is brought home more forcibly by an analysis of the following text: "Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed" (John 6:54-56)...Consequently, eating and drinking are to be understood of the actual partaking of Christ in person, hence literally."

          Nonetheless, the author of Wisdom utterly shuns this kind of consumption (eating human flesh and drinking human blood) as a heinous crime against God and humanity (in the context of the ancient pagan world). Of course, God the Father does not want us eating the flesh of other human beings, including that of God the Son. The truths that Jesus communicated in the Bread of Life discourse are to be understood symbolically.

          Jesus is (in the present tense) sitting at the right hand of the Father (John 16:10; 17:11; Acts 1:8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:16; Colossians 3:1). The Lord Jesus Christ is no longer present on earth in the flesh. Thus, it is highly illogical for Roman Catholics to make the claim of beholding Christ as the Eucharist. He is not coming down from His heavenly throne at the command of some pompous man who proclaims himself to be a priest. Transubstantiation is a false doctrine.

Biblical Illiteracy Within The Roman Catholic Church

"There was a far more extensive and continuous use of Scripture in the public services of the early Church than there is among us. Usually speaking, our people only hear the Gospel and Epistle read in the Mass, with the psalms and the little chapter (scarcely more than a verse or two), usually from the Epistle, at vespers and compline on Sundays or great feasts. In the primitive Church it was very different."

Tom Arnold and William Edward Addis, A Catholic Dictionary: Containing Some Account of the Doctrine, Discipline, Rites, Ceremonies, Councils, and Religious Orders of the Catholic Church, p. 509

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Joaquin Phoenix And ‘The Gospel of Mary’: Gnostic Fiction Coming To A Theater Near You

"Remember that 1980’s cough syrup commercial when Chris Robinson said, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV”? I wanted to paraphrase these immortal words when I read what actor Joaquin Phoenix of “Gladiator” fame said about his role as Jesus in the upcoming movie, “Mary Magdalene.” Phoenix is not the Son of Man, but he plays him on the big screen. His is a very different Jesus than the one we meet in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Judging by the trailer and the press roll-out, the movie will draw heavily on a second-century Gnostic text known as “the Gospel of Mary.” In a recent interview with Newsweek, Phoenix slammed early Christianity for not canonizing this and other apocryphal writings about Jesus, saying: “Why was Mary’s book not included in the Bible? The stench of blatant sexism,” he says, is “inescapable.”

Phoenix went even further in another interview: “Somebody made that decision to exclude [Mary Magdalene’s] observations and feelings about the life of Christ and her experience. There seems to have been an overt intention to exclude women from that process.”

The truth is, no one excluded Mary Magdalene’s experiences. Along with other texts like “the Apocryphon of John,” and “the Sophia of Jesus Christ,” “the Gospel of Mary” was never recognized by the Church as part of the New Testament. The reason is that it is an obvious forgery. The Gospel of Mary is a work of fan-fiction by members of a false religion who attempted to co-opt Jesus for their own purposes. True to the pattern of other Gnostic texts, the “Gospel of Mary” claims that Jesus delivered a private revelation to its namesake that radically contradicts the canonical gospels.

Even more, the Mary Magdalene revealed in the Bible is the best response we have to the accusation that early Christianity was sexist. Recall that she is reported as the first witness of the risen Lord—a claim that would have scandalized first-century Jewish readers.

In that culture, the testimony of a woman was considered worthless, yet she and several other women were entrusted to take the message of Christ’s resurrection back to His disciples, and those disciples were hesitant to believe them. If the four gospels were written to make Jesus’ male followers look good at the expense of the women, they did a lousy job.

Authors like Alvin J. Schmidt and Rodney Stark have documented that Christianity—far from oppressing women—radically elevated their status in the ancient world. It’s hard for us in 2019 to grasp just how revolutionary the Apostle Paul’s words were that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

And speaking of important background material, Joaquin Phoenix grew up in a pseudo-Christian cult that seems to have soured him toward religion. While we should be sensitive to that experience, we have to admit he’s no expert. Even so, his unfounded statements and the false story this movie tells will strike many as convincing, in the same way Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” did a few years back.

The good news is, we live in what I like to call the “golden age of good arguments.” There is a wealth of apologetic resources available that ably debunks the idea that the Gnostic gospels were unfairly suppressed or that they offer any new information about the life of Jesus.

The problem isn’t that the answers aren’t available. The problem is that the answers rarely reach as many people as the falsehoods do from the publishing industry, the media, or Hollywood—which, like the Gnostics of old—never tire of producing false Christianities and false Jesuses.

Our job is to learn the answers, to engage in conversations, to dialogue about those answers, and to do our best to set the record straight."

https://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/breakpoint/joaquin-phoenix-and-the-gospel-of-mary-gnostic-fiction-coming-to-a-theater-near-you.html

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Analyzing The Spiritual But Not Religious Movement

  • Discussion:
          -There is a trend within Christianity where a distinction is made between religion and spirituality. In other words, adherents of this growing movement have pitted the two words against each other. Organized religion altogether has been condemned as essentially being legalism, which gets in the way of people growing in their relationship with the living God. The phrase spiritual but not religious, albeit of uncertain origin, has been used as a label for this contemporary movement relating to self-identity.

          While it is true that Jesus Christ vehemently denounced the outward ceremonial righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, it is a huge mistake to oppose being religious due to having a facile understanding on the nature of faith. True faith involves obeying God on His own terms. He joyfully communes with the members of His church through the sharing of and living out the gospel. Additionally, the offices of elder and deacon are structurally set up for regulating the moral principles and worship habits of God's people.

          Therefore, Christianity is, in a very real sense, religious according to the purpose and design which God has mandated to maintain His church's spiritual vitality. James, the brother of Jesus, firmly acknowledges the contrast between the dead religion rooted in hypocrisy and the worship that pleases our Creator (James 1:21-27). How we view religion should be determined by the context in which that particular word is used. Religion and spirituality are actually synonymous. If God had a problem with "religion" in of itself, then why did He give the Jews the Mosaic Law?

          Us placing trust in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ alone in no way nullifies our calling to serve God according to His will. God does not only enjoy fellowship with us on an individualized basis, but also with us as a collective body. Spirituality cannot be found within ourselves, as is proposed in Eastern religions. We are fallen creatures. We are not deities. God Himself is the ultimate solution to our problems.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Christians And Persecution

"He [John Stott] says, “The first group escapes persecution by withdrawing from the world, the second group by becoming assimilated to the world.” It is just that simple. But God does not call us to either of those two extremes. Instead, he calls us to be salt and light, to plant ourselves in the midst of a watching world and, right there, to live very different lives. Some will see, and hear, and be persuaded. Many more will see, be convicted, and persecute. But as Christians we simply need to expect it: Persecution comes to those who are faithful."

https://www.challies.com/articles/2-surefire-ways-to-avoid-persecution/

Friday, June 14, 2019

A Few Comments On The Roman Catholic Misuse Of Matthew 16:18 And "Peter The Rock"

  • Discussion:
           -A few years back, I had written a detailed article addressing the Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18-19, explaining how viewing the Apostle Peter as the rock in that text is problematic. The identity of that reference most likely refers to the his confession of faith. Well, this short article contains another counterargument that may be useful when discussing this matter with Roman Catholics:

           "Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was only one man, and I blessed him and made him many." (Isaiah 51:1-2)

           The Old Testament once used a rock metaphor to describe Abraham. Does that mean the man was the first pope of the Roman Catholic Church? Another point worthy of consideration is how the Good News Bible renders Matthew 16:18:

           "And so I tell you, Peter; you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church, and not even death will ever be able to overcome it." (Matthew 16:18)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Punching Holes In A King James Only Conspiracy Narrative

One quibble that we regularly hear from King James Version only advocates is that the Roman Catholic Church has produced corrupt Bible translations in an effort to discredit that particular archaic translation and gradually convert unsuspecting people.

A few examples of Scripture passages that have supposedly been removed from our modern Bible versions would include Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11. This theory leaves us with a nagging question, however. If the Roman Catholic Church was involved in some conspiracy to undermine the authority of the King James Bible, then why does that hierarchy accept those passages as inspired Scripture despite them being included in textual brackets?

        Following is a footnote from the New American Bible Revised Edition on the text of Mark 16:9-20:

        "This passage, termed the Longer Ending to the Marcan gospel by comparison with a much briefer conclusion found in some less important manuscripts, has traditionally been accepted as a canonical part of the gospel and was defined as such by the Council of Trent."

        Following is a footnote from the New American Bible Revised Edition on the text of John 7:53-8:11:

        "The Catholic Church accepts this passage as canonical scripture."

        The New American Bible has been formally sanctioned by the Church of Rome for distribution and edification in faith. Also, it contains footnotes which plainly indicate to us that Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 are accepted as inspired Scripture in Roman Catholicism. Yet, King James only proponents refer to these two passages as examples to demonstrate how scholars for the pope want to destroy the credibility of the King James Version.

         Hmm, it would definitely seem counterproductive for scholars who have malicious motives to outrightly affirm the texts that they are attacking to be divine revelation. That stretches credibility. A much more reasonable and truthful explanation for bracketed texts in modern translations is the reporting of manuscript findings.

         While none of this material is meant to excuse Roman Catholicism for any theological error, the fact remains that we must be responsible and mature when expressing disagreement. There are bonafide conspiracies, as well as elaborate myths, both of which merit exposure. But the claim that the Roman Catholic Church has produced counterfeit translations for the express purpose of undermining the authority of the King James Bible does not hold water.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Commentary On Pastor Steven Anderson And His Deplorable Preaching Methodology

I just finished watching the first segment of Steven Anderson's review of Dr. James White's book titled the King James Only Controversy, but do not intend on watching the entire series as it is nothing but radical propaganda.

Let it be said that the arguments given by the critic overall lack consistency and require that one abandons common sense.

The final standard by which all translations of the Bible should be evaluated is the oldest manuscripts available. We do not have the original autographs, and the Bible was not originally written in English.

        The speaker in the video is an obvious anti-intellectual. He does nothing whatsoever to negate the validity of the circular reasoning charge, but instead makes a fool of himself. Steven Anderson condemns other Christians by using an extra-biblical standard (i.e. King James onlyism), which constitutes a doctrinal contradiction because he also professes to believe in the formal sufficiency of Scripture. 

        Faith in God and His Word is not based on circular reasoning as the speaker in the video asserts. In other words, there are multiple lines of evidence to support the veracity of Christian claims. There are various philosophical arguments for the existence of God. There is fulfilled prophecy. There is consistency with world history. There are archaeological discoveries. There is a wealth of manuscript evidence for the New Testament.

        Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles performed miracles in order to validate their ministry, which was in accordance with Scripture. Jesus even stumped His critics in posing difficult questions. The Apostle Paul said that God's existence is confirmed by observing nature (Romans 1:20). Thus, we clearly see that biblical Christianity has never advocated for blind faith.

        Most of the heresies that we witness today originated in the early church. There are different variations of false teachings from the early days of Christianity in our modern age. In other words, they existed long before the production of the King James Version. So the issue is not translations such as the New American Standard or the English Standard Version. The primary issue is that people misuse Scripture to fit their already preconceived ideas.

        The 1984 publication of the New International Version is sound. Later editions of that translation have the problem of gender-inclusive language. Anyway, see this article for more information on the King James Only Movement:

        https://rationalchristiandiscernment.blogspot.com/2018/02/a-critical-analysis-of-king-james-only.html

        Finally, I want to point out that Pastor Steven Anderson is a false teacher. He opposes the necessity of repentance, Christ's Lordship, and believes that homosexuals (along with others) should be put to death. He has vitriolic sermons that are simply hate speech, which is a sign of not being led by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). This pastor does not have any grace and compassion for sinners. This pastor is a self-righteous legalist. If we all at this very moment consistently subjected ourselves to the Law, then we would all be dead because we have all sinned against a holy God. Nonetheless, the biblical gospel is a call to spiritual conversion (Luke 13:1-3).

        If you are one who has a preference for the King James Version, then my word of advice to you would be to stick with it.

        ADDENDUM: One of my readers pointed out a well-done analysis of Steven Anderson's gospel teaching by Mike Winger which can be found here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

How Christ’s Incarnation Differs From The Hindu Idea Of Avatar

Jesus Christ’s life, death, and miraculous resurrection are events rooted in history. Whereas the lives of the Hindu holy men are enveloped in mythology.

As an Eastern mystical religion, Hinduism does not emphasize chronology. And modern-day Hindus show little interest in the “historical” Krishna the way contemporary Christians inquire about the historicity of Jesus.

Scholar and Krishna devotee Mataji Devi Vanamali explains:

“Hinduism is not a historical religion. If somebody were to prove conclusively that Krishna, Rama, and the various gods of the Hindu pantheon never existed, most Hindus would not mind in the least, and the religion would continue to flourish as it has done for so many centuries. However, to the devotees of Krishna, he is as real as any of their friends or relatives or children, depending on how they regard him—as friend, relation, child, or lover. This being so, most Indians have not bothered to verify his existence.”1

Thus a major difference between Jesus Christ and the Hindu holy men (including Krishna) relates to history and the question of historical verification.

1. Vanamali, The Complete Life of Krishna: Based on the Earliest Oral Traditions and Sacred Scriptures (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2012), xiii-xiv.

Kenneth Samples, cited by Ken Temple

Monday, June 10, 2019

"We Are All His Offspring"

"[Acts] 17:28 The quotations are from two Greek poets, Epimenides (cf. Tts 1:12 note) and Aratus. The wise Greeks sensed the presence and working of God, yet did not turn from their idols to respond to Him with thanks and praise. (Ro 1:21)"

Martin Franzmann, Concordia Self-study Commentary [commentary on Acts], p. 115

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Law Of Retaliation And The New Covenant

"[Matthew] 5:38-42 The new righteousness exemplified by the law of retaliation (Ex 21:24; Lv 24:20; Dt 19:21). The Law cannot remove the desire for vengeance from man's heart; it can only, as it were, regulate revenge, setting a limit to it (eye for an eye). Jesus removes the impulse of revenge from His disciples' hearts and bids them live, as He Himself lived, in a love that recklessly exposes itself to the lovelessness of the world and the need of men.

[Matthew] 5:43-48 The new righteousness exemplified by the law of love. The Law enjoined love for the neighbor; legalism (the attempt to find favor with God and to stand in His judgement by way of works of the Law) raised the question, "Who is my neighbor?" (Lk 10:29) and sought to limit the imperative of love by finding scope for lovelessness and hate. Jesus removes every limitation from the law of love by enjoining love for the enemy. The highest "righteousness" is love. Jesus went this way of love for before His disciples and for them; He joined Himself, in love, to men under the wrath of God when He was baptized; He loved the enemy in order to "fulfill all righteousness" (3:15). That way of love took Him to the cross, "so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Co 5:21)"

Martin Franzmann, Concordia Self-study Commentary [commentary on Matthew], p. 20

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Bad Catholic Apologetics On Luke 16:19-31 And Purgatory

  • Discussion:
          -This article is a rebuttal to a Roman Catholic commentary that attempts to justify the dogma of purgatory in light of difficult implications plainly set forth by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Only a small portion of that post will be consulted in this analysis, as that is the intended scope and the other points made by the author have already been addressed elsewhere on this blog. The excerpt being dissected is presented here as follows:

          "Luke 16:19-31 – in this story, we see that the dead rich man is suffering but still feels compassion for his brothers and wants to warn them of his place of suffering. But there is no suffering in heaven or compassion in hell because compassion is a grace from God and those in hell are deprived from God’s graces for all eternity. So where is the rich man? He is in purgatory."

          The rich man was not evil, humanly speaking. He did recognize Abraham as a spiritual father, proving that he was indeed faithful in practicing Judaism. The man did have a concern for his five brothers who had potentially not yet heard of Jesus Christ (Luke 16:28). So purgatory would have been an ideal place for God to send the rich man. But the context plainly shows us that he was in hell (Luke 16:25). Moreover, the context does not leave room for some third place which is for the purification of souls. In fact, we hear of a chasm that cannot be crossed (Luke 16:26). Where could purgatory possibly be? What purpose can it even serve?

          Jesus had the scribes and Pharisees in mind when He spoke these words concerning the eternal destiny of mankind. He was speaking from an eternal perspective. Christ was exposing the moral hypocrisy and corruption of the religious leaders of His day. He was rebuking them for closing the door to salvation for other people as they were leading them astray from the truth regarding His Messiahship. He was stressing the fact that God will not accept dead religion. The problem is that their hearts had not been changed by God.

          Luke 16:19-31 is problematic for the Roman Catholic teaching on praying to Mary and the saints in general, as the passage of Scripture says the following:

        "And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Verses 27-31)

         Obviously, God has ordained as a general rule of thumb that the dead cannot have contact with the living (or visa versa). From this biblical principle follows implications that are dreadful for Roman Catholic theology. The hypothesis of purgatory has been shown to be false. The idea of indulgences is rendered nonsensical. The credibility of Roman Catholic Marian apparitions has been injured. Prayer to saints is rendered of no value. Luke 16:29-31 is also problematic in that it supports Sola Scriptura. If the witness of Scripture is not sufficient to convince an unbelieving heart, then nothing else is. The words of Scripture are the very words of God Himself.

         To make matters even worse here, the defense provided by the Roman Catholic apologist being critiqued is expressly contradicted by other Roman Catholic apologists. For example, Jan Wakelin of Catholic Answers says the following:

         "To say that the rich man must have been in purgatory because love cannot exist in hell is a conclusion based on an unsupportable premise. The Church does not teach that those in hell are bereft of all kinds of love. It is true that supernatural love of God cannot exist in hell, but a disordered love is involved in every mortal sin, and this perverse loving will remain."

         The Roman Catholic catechism also references to Luke 16:19-31 with the premise that the rich man went to hell. In other words, an interpretive tradition in regard to that passage from Luke has already been long established. And yet, we have a Roman Catholic apologist acting as his own pope! He is acting independently of Roman Catholic tradition. Moreover, this incident serves as a good illustration as to the hypocrisy of apologists for Rome who resort to the unity argument against Sola Scriptura. They themselves do not see eye to eye on many things.

         Of course, the claim that the rich man was in purgatory is untenable. The context does not warrant that assertion anywhere. In fact, this entire section of Scripture is in conflict with Roman Catholic dogma. Luke 16:19-31 would have been an excellent place for Jesus Christ to make mention of purgatory, as the passage gives us a basic picture of the afterlife. But He does not. There is no opportunity to make amends for sin after death.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Eastern Orthodox Commentary On Papal Supremacy

"...astonishingly enough, in their [Roman Catholic theologians] efforts to make the doctrine of Papal supremacy more palatable to Orthodox and Protestants, they have tended, of late, to emphasize the Popes alleged "sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum," as the Latin Vulgate renders the original Greek of II Corinthians 11:28, "he merimna pason ton ekklesion" or "the care of all the Churches." That this statement is from the mouth of St. Paul, describing his own duties, and not a statement by St. Peter, hardly reinforces the notion of Petrine primacy on which the doctrine of Papal supremacy rests. Indeed, if one were to take it as literally as the Papists take Christs statement to St. Peter with regard to his Apostolic prerogatives in the Church, he would of necessity have to attribute to St. Paul the primacy which Roman Catholics give to the former.

In his homily on this Epistle, St. John Chrysostomos expounds on the nature of St. Paul's care for the Churches. He says that this was the heaviest of the burdens with which St. Paul wrestled in his Apostolic ministry: "...His soul too was distracted, and his thoughts divided. For even if nothing from without had assailed him; yet the war within was enough, those waves on waves, that sleet of cares, that war of thoughts." St. John adds that, though it is difficult enough for one to look after a single house, St. Paul had "the care not of a single house, but of cities and peoples and nations and of the whole world" (Homily 12, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. XII [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 395). Several Roman Catholic exegetes, in keeping with their misunderstanding of Christs words about the ministry of St. Peter, have misunderstood this all-embracing pastoral care with which St. Paul, as the Apostle to the Nations, was naturally entrusted as an institutional prerogative. In so doing, however, they once more compromise their own arguments. For, if St. Paul was given such care of all the Churches, then primacy in the Church would logically belong, again, not to St. Peter, but to St. Paul and, by implication, to his successors [I, the author of this blog, would dispute the notion of apostolic succession, but that is beside the point here]. Clearly, however, St. Paul was not speaking, in the passage under consideration, of an institutional prerogative, as St. John Chrysostomos points out, but of a burden imposed on him by the nature of his ministry.

With regard to the other verse which you cite, St. Theophylact of Ochrid points out that the words, "I will give unto thee,""...were spoken to Peter alone, yet they were given to all the apostles," since Christ also said, Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted." (The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew [House Springs, MO: Chrysostom Press, 1994], p. 141.) The second verse to which St. Theophylact refers is St. John 20:23. As the translator rightly observes, the verb "remit" is in the second person plural, and thus refers not to St. Peter alone, but to all of the Apostles. As for the "controversial verse" (St. Matthew 16:18), St. Theophylact, following St. John Chrysostomos and the overwhelming consensus of both Greek and Latin Fathers, interprets the words "this rock" to denote St. Peters confession of faith in the Divinity of Christ, and not the Apostles person. Any other interpretation would, of course, violate the Christocentric nature of the Church and the rather clear Scriptural affirmation that "Christ is the head of the Church" (Ephesians 5:23) and the "head of the Body" (Colossians 1:18)."

http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/papal_supremacy.aspx

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Three-Handed Mary Of Eastern Orthodoxy

          It is widely known that the Eastern Orthodox, just like Roman Catholics, cling to the odd and unusual practice of praying before and venerating icons that represent various saints within Christianity. Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, is the one who receives most of this religious devotion (although the Orthodox reject the immaculate conception of Mary). Eastern Orthodoxy is full of mysticism, along with bizarre looking paintings. Consider the example of Saint Christopher who is sometimes depicted as having a dog head. Another shocking example of a consecrated image is that of the three-handed Mary, which had its origins with John Damascene who supposedly encountered an apparition of Mary. As this Eastern Orthodox source says:

          "Panagia Tricherousa is another Hodegetria-style icon known as the "Virgin with Three Hands." This icon is at the Serbian Monastery of Chiliandari, Mount Athos, Greece. This icon is commemorated by the Church on June 28 and July 12.

          A great fighter against the iconoclasts, St. John Damascene was accused of being an enemy of the state in which he lived, and as punishment, the Caliph ordered that one of his hands be chopped off. Afterwards, St. John took the severed hand, prayed in front of the icon of the Theotokos and fell asleep. The Theotokos wrought the miracle of re-attaching the dead hand of her servant and bringing it back to life. When he awoke, he found that his hand was completely healed.

          In honor of that healing, he made a silver votive offering in the shape of a hand and placed it on the icon in such a way that it appears that the Virgin Mary has a third hand."

          First of all, we were instructed in Scripture by Christ to pray to our Father which is in heaven (Matthew 6:6). Paul said to make our requests known to God (Philippians 4:6-7). Not once are we told to petition saints in heaven.

          Secondly, it is a part of our sinful nature to turn things into idols. So bowing before religious iconography is especially unwise. That is why we as God's people are not to greatly emphasize or make the central aspect a particular image when worshiping (Leviticus 26:1). Bowing before or adoration for images is futile because they are inherently lifeless and powerless (Psalm 115; Isaiah 44:10-19) A picture of Mary having three hands is simply preposterous.

          Thirdly, Mary (or any human being for that matter) has not been endowed with some special ability to work miracles at whim. To petition somebody other than God for a miracle amounts to rank idolatry. It is not as if the Jews in the Old Testament who persisted in praying to Baal would have had anything good happen to them as a result of their idolatrous actions. The Eastern Orthodox (although not quite to the degree as the Roman Catholic Church) have essentially turned Mary into a mythical goddess.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Answering Common Questions About Genesis Chapter One

  • What Is The Meaning Of The Word "Day" In Genesis 1?:
          -The context of the creation account makes it crystal clear that the meaning of the word "day" (the Hebrew word is yom) refers to a 24-hour day. It distinguishes between morning and evening in relation to the consecutive numbering of days in which the universe was formed (Genesis 1:5; 8; 13; 19; 23; 1:31; 2:2). Furthermore, the six days of creation corresponds perfectly with the Jewish workweek (Exodus 20:11). The seventh day functions as a device pointing us to the eternal rest which is found in the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4). So the claim that each day of creation is representative of long epochs of time is ruled out by the witness of Scripture itself.
          -"The Framework View does take the carefully crafted prose of Genesis seriously. However, seeing an obvious literary structure in Genesis 1 does not preclude a literal, seven-day week of creation. Hebrew scholars note that the Hebrew word for “day” (yom) universally means a twenty-four hour solar day when preceded by ordinal numbers, as it is in this chapter. Furthermore, it is hard to believe Moses’ original audience would have understood the period of creation as occupying a time span longer than a normal week."(https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/days-creation/)
  • Are Genesis Chapter One And Chapter Two Contradictory Creation Stories?:
          -It is not so much that the two accounts are contradictory in nature as they are in reality harmonious and interdependent. Genesis chapter one specifically speaks to the creation of the universe, with man being last in order. Genesis chapter two centers on what earth was like. It makes no mention of the stars, moon, or other features of the solar system. Genesis chapters two and three focuses more on man. Genesis chapter two does not outline the events of creation. There is no discrepancy between the first two chapters of Genesis, as both, while related, are different contexts.
  • Is The Genesis Creation Account Based On Mesopotamian Myths?:
          -The borrowing of a few Mesopotamian ideas for the purpose of describing transcendent truths is different than having been derived from Mesopotamian stories themselves. That is logical, especially considering the original audience. Nonetheless, the text of Genesis is a stand alone in that it presents itself as authentic history. Adam and Eve are presented as historical figures. The biblical account does not read like myth. The biblical account does not read like legend. The biblical account does not read like poetry. Genesis is unique in that it is monotheistic. God is distinguished from His creation. He formed everything from nothing. Genesis is unique in that He who created all things is loving, peaceful, and righteous. These divine and timeless truths are so elegantly communicated by the text. The Genesis creation account is more intricate in that it encompasses every sphere of the natural and spiritual realms. Metaphysical naturalists reject the text of Genesis as being supernatural revelation. If we are to view this creation account as anything, then we are to see it as Moses correcting the pagan narratives. The Book of Genesis does have significant differences when compared to ancient eastern literature.
  • If God Created The Universe In Six Days, Then How Could The Universe Be 4.6 Billion Years Old?:
          -One could theoretically assume that Adam was in the Garden of Eden for a lengthy amount of time. Scripture does not say how long he was there. Perhaps also time in the Garden of Eden operated in a different fashion than here on earth. The aforementioned details simply constitute a loosely articulated theory designed to answer a particular question. Another approach that a person could take in answering this question is to dispute the idea of an ancient earth.
  • Why Is The Creation Of Plants Placed Before The Creation Of The Sun?:
          -The problem is resolved as one considers that God Himself is light (Revelation 22:5). So photosynthesis was not rendered an impossibility before the creation of the sun. Water was able to remain in a liquid state (God certainly could have used some other means if He chose. After all, we finite beings can use fire to cause the melting of ice). God works in accordance with His divine will. God designed the universe. So He would certainly know how to keep it working.
  • Since God Already Knows Everything, Why Did He Create An Angel Who Would Defy Him And Corrupt His Creation?:
          -Presumably, Satan, who was created without sin, became fallen in the same way that Adam and Eve, who were also created without sin, became fallen. They misused the free will that God had given them by choosing evil instead of righteousness. It is philosophically impossible for evil to exist on its own as an entity, as it is a perversion of what is good. Evil and good can exist at the same time. Good can exist apart from evil. There is much mystery surrounding the fall of Satan. God in His wisdom has chosen not to reveal how all that took place. Of course, this question overlaps with the age-long discussion on the existence of evil and the sovereignty of God (article one; article two). What Scripture does tell us is that God is working all things out in a manner that is good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28-30).

Monday, June 3, 2019

How Were Gentiles Saved In The Old Testament?

           The Mosaic Covenant was instituted for the Jewish people to serve as a code to guide behavior and a system of forgiveness. It foreshadowed the greater atonement of Jesus Christ that actually perfects those who believe on Him for salvation. The fact that the New Covenant is superior to the Old is manifested by the latter requiring repeated animal sacrifices. While the Old Testament is mainly centered upon Israel, it does speak of the Gentile cultures which surrounded that nation. We are told that God held non Jewish people accountable for sins such as idolatry and sexual immorality (2 Kings 22:17; Romans 1:18-32), with the reason being that they violated the law written on their hearts by God. This leaves us with an interesting question. How could the Gentiles be reconciled to a holy God before Christ came to die for our sins?

           The Law that was given to Israel by God through the Prophet Moses exemplified its uniqueness as a nation before the pagan cultures (Deuteronomy 4:5-9; Isaiah 42:5-7). The Law even contained clauses regarding the proper treatment of outsiders, thereby demonstrating God's care for those who were not Jewish. He provides equally for both the Jew and the Gentile (Deuteronomy 10:16-21). The nations are in view through the seed of Abraham (Genesis 22:18). The Apostle Paul further elaborated on this truth as he was given new revelation from God (Ephesians 3:1-13). Non Jewish believers are considered as members of His heavenly kingdom in the same manner as a believing Jew.

           Gentiles were saved in the Old Testament by converting to Judaism. They were saved by placing their trust in the God of Israel and identifying themselves with His people. False gods were forsaken for the worship of Yahweh. One noteworthy example of conversion is that of Rahab (Joshua 2). Another example of conversion is Ruth, which is described in detail in the first chapter of the book named after her. That Moabite woman exhibited faith in God and entered into His covenant, which consisted of trusting in the assurance of a future redeemer as foretold by the Holy Scriptures. The coming of a Messiah was believed by the patriarchs and of all the Jews. Converts partook in the Passover (Exodus 12:46-50). God has never been beyond the reach of individuals who truthfully seek after Him (Acts 17:26-27).

Psalm 49:6-9, Purgatory, And Indulgences

  • Discussion:
          -"An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints."81 "An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin."82 Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead." (CCC # 1471)

          This portion from the Psalms unequivocally indicates the impossibility of sinful man making any ransom for sin:

          "Even those who trust in their wealth and boast in the abundance of their riches? No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him—For the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever—That he should live on eternally, that he should not undergo decay." (Psalm 49:6-9)

          The concept of indulgences involves shortening the time that a deceased person must spend in purgatory through performing various meritorious deeds, which are bestowed grace from the treasury of merit drawn from Jesus Christ, Mary, and the saints. But Psalm 49:6-9, which speaks specifically of human death as being an unavoidable consequence of the fall, affirms that no man can offer any price to God to make any type of restitution. No man can make reparation for his own sin or the sins of other people, which is essentially what takes place in purgatory. Indulgences are of no avail. Only Jesus Christ could take upon that task on behalf of mankind.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Eastern Orthodoxy, The Mystical Trap

                                      By Richard Bennett of the Berean Beacon

In recent years interest in the Eastern Orthodox Church among Christians has grown steadily and there have been a number of converts to this religious body. A prime reason for this interest has been the growing fascination with mysticism and ancient tradition which has permeated Western societies. Increasing numbers of Christians are coming into contact with Eastern Orthodox mysticism via the Emergent Church and the writings of the Orthodox “Church Fathers”. There are many strands to Eastern Orthodox mysticism; this paper briefly examines a few significant areas such as Theosis, Hesychasm, the “Jesus Prayer”, Spiritual Fathers and Light Mysticism.

Mysticism

As early as the second century, the East developed a distinct approach to theology which included mysticism. The premise of all mysticism is that experiential knowledge of God takes preference over doctrinal understanding of the character and being of God because of the transcendent nature of God. One of the ways mysticism gained a foothold in Eastern Orthodoxy was by the emphasis of certain Orthodox “Church Fathers” upon the “way of negation” also known as “apophatic”1 theology. Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, a current well known Orthodox scholar, explains the connection of apophatic theology with mysticism,

“The emphasis on divine unknowability might seem at first sight to exclude any direct experience of God. But in fact many of those who used the apophatic approach saw it, not just as a philosophical device for indicating God’s utter transcendence, but also, and much more fundamentally, as a means for attaining union with Him through prayer. The negations, as well as serving to qualify positive statements about God, acted as a springboard or trampoline whereby the mystical theologian sought to leap up with all the fullness of his or her being into the living mystery of God. This is the case, for example, with Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysius and Maximus, all of whom made heavy use of the apophatic approach; for them the ‘way of negation’ was at the same time ‘the way of union’.”2

This “way of negation” emphasizes mystery and yet the Bible says that it is the Holy Spirit that sovereignly reveals “the deep things of God” to us, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” 3 The Bible teaches us that all we need to know of God we see in the Lord Jesus Christ, “Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayestthou then, Shew us the Father?”4 As the Scripture also says, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”5

A further problem with Orthodox mysticism is that following the “way of negation” can lead to ecstasy seeking. Orthodox mystics find it acceptable to teach the attainment of a state of ecstasy in order to “penetrate the highest spiritual reality”.6 An example of ecstasy seeking by prayer is found in the fourteenth century writings of Gregory of Sinai, a recognized saint7 in the Orthodox Church,

“Noetic prayer is an activity initiated by the cleansing power of the Spirit and the mystical rites celebrated by the intellect. Similarly, stillness is initiated by attentive waiting upon God, its intermediate stage is characterized by illuminative power and contemplation, and its final goal is ecstasy and the enraptured flight of the intellect towards God.”8

These ecstatic states present a problem if their content is not affirmed by, or is contrary to the Scriptures. How are we to know that these ecstatic states achieved by “Noetic Prayer”9 (the “Jesus Prayer”) and their often associated visions, Light Mysticism, are true, as opposed to the psychic, unless they are examined in the light of Holy Scripture? Otherwise we fall into the trap described by Scripture as “intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind…”10

Tradition of the Fathers

The Orthodox Church rests upon the foundation of its tradition.11 This stance is encapsulated in the view of the fourth century teacher Athanasius, “But our faith is right, and starts from the teaching of the Apostles and tradition of the fathers, being confirmed both by the New Testament and the Old.”12 The “tradition of the fathers” is viewed as an authoritative part of Orthodox tradition,13 and thus the Orthodox Church regularly refers to their writings. There is a problem, however, in that the “Church Fathers” differ among themselves on certain issues, as for example, on the number of sacraments.14 And they also contradict one another.15 Further complications arise due to translation discrepancies16 and differing interpretations, for the “Church Fathers” can be difficult to understand. This can lead to a swamp of human opinions and error. All teachings, including the “Church Fathers”, have to be assessed by the only sure rule that we have: the Bible. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…”17

Theosis

A central part of the Orthodox Church’s theology is the notion of deification,18 more properly known as theosis.19 This concept of theosis is a crucial underpinning of Orthodox belief and practice,20 and is integral to Orthodox mysticism. To support this concept of theosis, the Orthodox theologians quote certain “Church Fathers”, such as Irenaeus,21 Athanasius of Alexandria,22 and Gregory Nazianzen.23 Timothy Ware comments, “Such, according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, is the final goal at which every Christian must aim: to become god, to attain theosis, ‘deification’ or ‘divinization’. For Orthodoxy our salvation and redemption mean our deification.”24

A pertinent question at this point may be: since every member of the Orthodox Church must aim to become god, what happens if he or she fails? But we read in the Scriptures that “Salvation is of the LORD.”25 The quest for theosis has the familiar and disturbing echo of the first deception ever perpetrated upon mankind, “And the serpent said unto the woman, ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”26 Nevertheless, theosis is sought by different means, including Hesychasm, the Jesus Prayer, and Light Mysticism.

Hesychasm

The term Hesychasm,27 as used by the Orthodox Church, originates from the Greek term meaning inner stillness.28 Timothy Ware notes, “The Hesychast is one who devotes himself to the prayer of silence—to prayer that is stripped, so far as possible, of all images, words and discursive thinking.”29 Though it differs in some respects to the mystical practices of the Eastern religions, it also has much in common with them. As Ware acknowledges “There are interesting parallels between the Hesychast ‘method’ and Hindu Yoga…”30 The originator of Hesychasm is traditionally held to be John Climacus31 through his influential work, “Ladder of Perfection”. Official Orthodox Church recognition of Hesychasm occurred in the fourteenth century largely through the efforts of Gregory Palamas.32

For an examination Theologian are instructive. meditation: of the Hesychast method, the writings of Symeon the New Symeon offers the following instructions for the practice of mystic “Rest your beard on your chest, and focus your physical gaze, together with the whole of your intellect, upon the centre of your belly or your navel. Restrain the drawing-in of breath through your nostrils, so as not to breathe easily, and search inside yourself with your intellect so as to find the place of the heart, where all the powers of the soul reside. To start with, you will find there darkness and an impenetrable density. Later, when you persist and practice this task day and night, you will find, as though miraculously, an unceasing joy. For as soon as the intellect attains the place of the heart, at once it sees things of which it previously knew nothing. It sees the open space within the heart and it beholds itself entirely luminous and full of discrimination.”33

This method, however, presents a problem: where do we find this approach in the Scripture? Rather than try to “find the place of the heart” the Scriptures instruct us to “look out” (ἀφοράω)34 to Jesus who is in heaven above: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”35

A question arises: why would practice of “this task day and night” cause us to go from darkness to light? Rather than persistent mystical practices, it is God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that takes us out of the darkness. As the Lord Jesus says in Scripture, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.”36 Instead of looking into our “old” heart to find something luminous, the Lord tells us that we need Him to give us a new heart, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”37

Orthodox mystics recognize that Symeon used a “psychosomatic technique”38 in conjunction with the “Jesus Prayer.” They also recognize that this technique “…can inflict grave damage on a person’s physical and mental health.”39 Is the Orthodox Church being responsible when it allows the promotion of Eastern style meditation practices—practices that not only lack a Scriptural basis, but can inflict grave damage upon a person? If a person imitates the Hesychast and comes under psychic and demonic oppression it is because they have ignored the Scripture, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”40

The Jesus Prayer

A core part of Hesychasm is the “Jesus Prayer”.41 This noetic breath prayer was thought to have originated with John Climacus, “Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with your every breath. Then indeed you will appreciate the value of stillness.”42 Orthodox mystics interpreted this passage to mean a repetitious heart prayer which has come to be known as the “Jesus Prayer”. For example, Nikiphoros the monk, a thirteenth century Hesychast, writes, “You know that everyone’s discursive faculty is centered in his breast…Banish, then, all thoughts from this faculty…and in their place put the prayer ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,’ and compel it to repeat this prayer ceaselessly.”43 Does the Bible instruct us to banish all thoughts? As we see from the Scriptures, we are shown that thinking is normal and we are encouraged to think on good things, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”44

Eastern Orthodox teachers refer to the Scripture, “Pray without ceasing,”45 to confirm the practice of continuous repetitive prayer.46 For example, in an Orthodox devotional work, “The Way of the Pilgrim,”47 a pilgrim describes his use of the “Jesus Prayer”, “And that is how I go about now, and ceaselessly repeat the prayer of Jesus… I thank God that I now understand the meaning of those words I heard in the Epistle, ‘Pray without ceasing.’”48 The context of the passage in which the Scripture is found does not support the practice of the repetitive “Jesus Prayer”. For example, Paul in I Thessalonians 5:18 says: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Are we supposed to mentally and continuously say “I give thanks” to God without ceasing? Clearly not. Does the Orthodox Church recommend this? Probably not. What does the Word of God say on this matter? Scripture warns us not to repeat prayers repetitiously, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as theheathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”49 The Lord Jesus instructed us to pray to our Father, not with fixed phrase, but in a personal manner “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven…”50

A further problem with this mystical technique is that it reduces the name of our Lord to a formula which is supposed to ward off difficulties, as a quote from Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain shows, “And though it seem difficult in the beginning, be certain and assured, as if from the person of God Almighty, that this very name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, when we invoke it constantly every day, will make all the difficulties easier.”51

Another difficulty arises when the Orthodox Hesychast Monk Nikiphoros states that the “Jesus Prayer” is supposed to increase the intellect’s “…love and desire for God.”52How can repetitive prayer help us to love God more; since that love is given to every child of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, “… the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”53

That Orthodox mystics are aware of the hypnotic quality of the ceaseless “Jesus Prayer” is apparent from the following quote from the “The Way of the Pilgrim”, “I am aware only of the fact that I am saying my prayer. When the bitter cold pierces me, I begin to say my prayer more earnestly, and I quickly get warm all over. … I have become a sort of half-conscious person. Of course, all this is sensuous, or as my departing starets said, an artificial state that follows naturally upon routine.”54

The “Jesus Prayer” seems to be a mechanistic way of inducing hypnotic mental states. Psychic phenomena seem to be present, as for example, the reference to unnatural warmth. A valid question is: does the mystical practice of the “Jesus Prayer” genuinely encourage a person to look to God for comfort and provision? Or do these experiences come from another source? A further question arises: why would a Christian want to imitate the Orthodox mystics by filling their mind with “the uninterrupted mantra-like invocation of the Name of Jesus”?55 The following quote from Orthodox theologian, Dr. Christopher Veniamin,56 highlights what may be the most alarming aspect of the Orthodox mystic’s use of the noetic “Jesus Prayer”,

“The teaching of Saint Gregory and his fellow Hesychasts was based on the understanding that man, the greatest of all God’s creatures, had been called to enter into direct and unmediated communion with God even from this present life. The chief manner by which this is achieved is through the grace of God and noetic prayer, that is, through the Prayer of the Heart, also known as the Jesus Prayer…”57

Here is the heart of Orthodox mysticism: “unmediated communion with God.” This mysticism denies the Scripture which says, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…”58 Furthermore, our Lord Jesus Christ emphasizes that it is only through Him that we can have communion with God, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” 59 It may be pertinent to ask: are the Orthodox mystics really communing with God? And if not, then to whom are they really going?

Submission to the “Fathers”

There is a tradition within the Orthodox Church of submission to a monastic “spiritual father”60 figure. He is supposed to be spiritually gifted to see what the will of God is for those who come to him, monks and lay people included.61 For most people who are living “regular” lives this may not be overly intrusive but for the Orthodox monk things can be very different. The role of the spiritual father in a mystic’s life is central. Details of this relationship can be found in the writings of the tenth century “Church Father” Symeon the New Theologian.62 Various works of Symeon can be found in the popular anthology of Orthodox mystical texts called the Philokalia.63 In his writing Symeon shows the exacting nature of a mystic monk’s submission to a spiritual father, for example, “With respect to your spiritual father do everything he tells you to do, neither more nor less and be guided by his purpose and will.”64 The following quote shows how intense this can be, “The person who from fear of punishment hereafter has placed himself as a slave in the hands of his spiritual fathers will not choose, even if commanded to do so, relief for his heart’s suffering or deliverance from the bonds of fear.”65

This kind of teaching raises serious concerns. Our complete submission is towards God alone, “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”66 Paul the Apostle, in writing to the Corinthians, shows us that he is a fellow helper and not an exacting slave master, “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.”67 Has the Orthodox mystic who does not want “deliverance from the bonds of fear” understood the Gospel? “The scriptures say For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” 68

The importance of the quality of the spiritual father, in an Orthodox mystic’s life, is shown by Symeon’s statement that he must be an “unerring guide.”69 This qualification presents the mystic with a problem, for it is plainly impossible to find an error-free man, as the Scripture makes plain, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all.”70 In practice Symeon demonstrates the level of obedience which he expects mystic monks to achieve. The following quote is from his “Discourses” and refers to a monastic father, such as an abbot,

“…refuse to set yourself in opposition to the father who has tonsured you, even if you should see him commit fornication or be drunk and, in your opinion, badly conducting the affairs of the monastery …Endure him to the end, without curiously inquiring into his faults. Whatever good you see him do, put your mind on that, and seek to remember that alone. Whatever you see him do or speak that is unsuitable evil, blame it on yourself and regard it as your own fault and repent in tears. Treat him as a holy man and ask for his prayers.” Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said, “For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”71Paul the Apostle instructed us, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)”72

And John the Apostle instructs us not to follow those that commit evil but those that are good leaders, “Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God. Demetrius hath good report of all men…”73 Since Symeon the New Theologian is regarded by the Orthodox Church as one of its “three great Fathers,”74 then the gravity of his errors can be readily appreciated. Where does this leave the Orthodox tradition of spiritual fathers?

Light Mysticism

“For the Hesychasts of Byzantium, the culmination of mystical experience was the vision of Divine and Uncreated Light… The Hesychasts believed that this light which they experienced was identical with the Uncreated Light which the three disciples saw surrounding Jesus at His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.”75 So writes Bishop Kalistos Ware. This type of mysticism has been called “Light Mysticism”,76 of which Symeon the New Theologian was a notable exponent. When this teaching was attacked by other members of the Orthodox Church, Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, defended the Hesychasts. He asserted that the Hesychasts did indeed experience the “Divine and Uncreated Light of Tabor.”77

Gregory Palamas was proclaimed a saint by the Orthodox Church in 136878 and his ecstatic79 Hesychastic teachings are influential. The following quotes from his work, The Triads, shows the visions of light gained by the Hesychasts, “This is why every believer has to separate off God from all His creatures, for the cessation of all intellectual activity and the resulting union with the light from on high is an experience and a divinizing end, granted solely to those who have purified their hearts and received grace. And what am I to say of this union, when the brief vision itself is manifested only to chosen disciples, disengaged by ecstasy from all perception of the senses or intellect, admitted to the true vision because they have ceased to see, and endowed with supernatural senses by their submission to the unknowing?”80

When the three disciples saw the Lord transfigured,81 there is no indication of them engaging in mystical practices in order to see this light. It was the sovereign will of the Lord to manifest His glory to them. Nevertheless, further on in The Triads, Gregory shows us how to see the light, “…and let us seek how to acquire this glory and see it. How? By keeping the divine commandments. For the Lord has promised to manifest Himself to the man who keeps them, a manifestation He calls His own indwelling and that of the Father saying “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and will make our abode with him” and “I will manifest Myself to him.”82

The passage to which Gregory is referring is John 14:23. To give the context, in the same passage in verse 16, the Lord Jesus says, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever…” In verse 26 the Lord explains that the “Comforter” is the Holy Spirit. So the Lord “manifests” Himself to the apostles by the Holy Spirit Now previously in John 3:5, the Lord Jesus says, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” So the Scripture to which Gregory is referring is about a person being “born again”; thus the Scripture is talking about salvation. This indwelling of the Holy Spirit is for all Christians, as Paul the Apostle said in Ephesians, “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise…”83 It is clear from this passage that the Gospel has to be heard and believed for a person to receive the Holy Spirit.

Do all Christians, during new birth see a light? The Scriptures do not say that they do. It is notable that in this passage of The Triads, Gregory does not mention the crucial word “faith”. It would seem to the reader that to have a relationship with God via this light he must labor in works, “keeping the divine commandments.” But what saith the Scripture? “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?… But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.”84

So what is Gregory looking for in his mystical ecstasy? He says in The Triads, “As to him who mysteriously possesses and sees this light, he knows and possesses God in himself…”85 And what is this light that Gregory and the Orthodox mystics seek? A further quote from his Triads is interesting, “This hypostatic light, seen spiritually by the saints, they know by experience to exist, as they tell us, and to exist not symbolically only, as do manifestations produced by fortuitous events; but it is an illumination immaterial and divine, a grace invisibly seen and ignorantly known. What it is, they do not pretend to know.”86

It is quite concerning that the mystics encourage people to seek this light and yet they do not know what it is. Yet the martyr, Stephen, knew the glory of God when he saw it, “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God…”87 Significantly, Stephen was full of the Holy Ghost; he had true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he was indwelt by the Holy Spirit. As the Scriptures in John 3:7 tell us, “Ye must be born again.”

Surely we should read the Scriptures and not theorize and engage in mystical seeking. The Lord Jesus said to the disciples: “…Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven…”88 And the Apostles wrote all that we needed to know of these matters in the Scriptures. Because the Scriptures are the Christian’s sure guide, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path,”89 it is important to know what Gregory’s attitude toward Scripture was. He states, “Indeed, this light of contemplation even differs from the light that comes from the holy Scriptures, whose light may be compared to ‘a lamp that shines in an obscure place’, whereas the light of mystical contemplation is compared to the star of the morning which shines in full daylight, that is to say, to the sun.”90

Earlier on in the same passage Gregory says that this mystical light “…is superior to the light of knowledge.”91 It is highly regrettable that the Orthodox Church allows such teaching. And it is truly heartbreaking that many people are putting their trust in certain of its beliefs and practices which have no basis in the Scriptures. The Christian ought to imitate the Bereans who were “more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”92

Sadly, Gregory’s search for mystical ecstasies is not an isolated example. Other Orthodox “Church Fathers” also seek “spiritual ecstasy.”93 The mystical search for the perfection via ecstasies and visions leads people in the wrong direction; but the Holy Scripture plainly tells of its own sufficiency: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”94We need not, as the mystics, to try to ascend to God because the Holy Spirit has come down to dwell in us by faith, to reveal the Lord Jesus Christ to us. This is crucial because “…ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”95 John the Apostle also assures us that we have no need to seek unknowable knowledge, for he says, “For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever.”96

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1 “God is absolutely transcendent. ‘No single thing of all that is created has or ever will have even the slightest communion with the supreme nature or nearness to it.’ This absolute transcendence Orthodoxy safeguards by its emphatic use of the ‘way of negation’ of ‘apophatic’ theology. Positive or ‘cataphatic’ theology – the ‘way of affirmation’ – must always be balanced and corrected by the employment of negative language. Our positive statements about God – that He is good, wise, just and so on – are true as far as they go, yet they cannot adequately describe the inner nature of deity.…‘That there is a God is clear: but what He is by essence and nature, this is altogether beyond our comprehension and knowledge.’” Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, New Edition (London: Penguin, 1997) pp. 208-209. Timothy Ware is also known as Bishop Kallistos Ware.

2 Ware, pp. 63-64

3 I Corinthians 2:9-10

4 John 14:9

5 II Corinthians 4:6

6 “Ecstasy is not a passion… It is an energy through which personhood is completely freed from the powers of created nature so it can penetrate the highest spiritual reality.” http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/christou_partakers_glory.html#_edn30

7 G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, Kallistos Ware, The Philokalia (London: Faber, 1995) Vol. 4: The Complete Text, Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Markarios of Corinth (Philokalia), St Gregory of Sinai, “Introductory Note”, p 207.

8 Ibid., “On Commandments and Doctrines”, p. 237.

9 “The chief manner by which this is achieved is through the grace of God and noetic prayer, that is, through the Prayer of the Heart, also known as the Jesus Prayer…” St. Gregory Palamas, Christopher Veniamin, Mary the Mother of God: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas (South Canaan: Mount Tabor, 2005), Forward, p. xii.

10 Colossians 2:18

11 “Tradition means something more concrete and specific than this. It means the books of the Bible; it means the Creed; it means the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils and the writings of the Fathers; it means the Canons, the Service Books, the Holy Icons—in fact, the whole system of doctrine, Church government, worship, spirituality and art which Orthodoxy has articulated over the ages.” Ware, p. 196.

12 Philip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series, Volume 4, (Albany: AGES Software, 1997) “Letter: To Adelphius, Bishop and Confessor: against the Arians”, p. 1324. All citations for Schaff are taken from this software.

13 Ware, p. 196

14 “…the Byzantine Church never committed itself formally to any specific list; many authors accept the standard series of seven sacraments …while others give a longer list; and still, others emphasize the exclusive and prominent importance of baptism and the Eucharist… Thus, Gregory Palamas proclaims that ‘in these two [sacraments] our whole salvation is rooted since the entire economy of the God-man is recapitulated in them.’” (http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/byzantine_theology_j_meyendorf.htm#_Toc26430281)

15 “But as with the local councils, so with the Fathers, the judgement of the Church is selective: individual writers have at times fallen into error and at times contradict one another.” 15 Ware, p. 204

16 For example, compare the translations of “The Three Methods Of Prayer” online at http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/symeon_threeways.html and contained in the book, The Philokalia, Footnote 7.

17 II Timothy 3:16

18 Ware, p. 231

19 Ibid.

20 “The primary work of the Church is to lead man to theosis, to communion and union with God.” (http://www.pelagia.org/htm/b15.en.orthodox_spirituality.01.htm#or1)

21 “…who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.” A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, Book 5 (Albany: AGES Software, 1997), p. 1052.

22 “For therefore did He assume the body originate and human, that having renewed it as its Framer, He might deify it in Himself, and thus might introduce us all into the kingdom of heaven after His likeness.” Schaff, Volume 4, p 946.

23 “…and be associated, as far as man’s nature can attain, with the purest Light, blessed is he, both from his ascent from hence, and for his deification there…” Schaff, Volume 7, p. 522

24 Ware, p. 231

25 Jonah 2:9

26 Genesis 3:4-5

27 “ἡσυχάζω hesychazo: to keep quiet”, Joseph Henry Thayer, D.D., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), p. 281.

28 Ware, p. 64

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid., p. 65

31 “John is remembered not only as the author of the masterful ‘Ladder of Perfection,’ but also as the originator of hesychasm…” (http://www.antiochian.org/saint_john_climacus)

32 “For the next fourteen years he became involved in what is often termed the hesychast controversy. Initially his main opponent was… Barlaam the Calabrian… Gregory’s standpoint was vindicated at the Council of Constantinople in 1341… The doctrinal position upheld by Gregory was eventually reaffirmed at two further councils held in Constantinople in 1347 and 1351, and since then it has remained the official teaching of the Orthodox Church.” Palmer et al., “Introductory Note”, p 288. See also: http://www.antiochian.org/saint_john_climacus

33 Palmer et al., “The Three Methods Of Prayer”, pp. 72-73

34 ἀφοράω (aphoraō,) Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. IV (Peabody: Hendrickson) pp. 537-538

35 Hebrews 12:2

36 John 12:46

37 Ezekiel 36:26

38 “…the author of the Three Methods proposes a psychosomatic technique involving three features: first a particular bodily posture, with the chin resting on the chest and the gaze directed towards the navel…secondly, control over the breathing, so that its pace is slowed down; thirdly, inner exploration by the intellect, which searches for the place of the heart. All of this, so it seems, is meant to precede rather than accompany the recitation of the Jesus Prayer…” Palmer et al., “The Three Methods Of Prayer,” p. 65

39 Ibid.

40 Galatians 6:7

41 “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Ware, p. 65 For an online text dealing with the “Jesus Prayer”, see Symeon the New Theologian at:
(http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/symeon_threeways.html)

42 John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Tr. by Colm Luibheid and Norman Russel in Classics of Western Spirituality series (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1982), p. 270

43 Palmer et al., “On Watchfulness and Guarding of the Heart”, p. 206

44 Philippians 4:8

45 I Thessalonians 5:17

46 See Ware, p. 306

47 “…‘The Way of the Pilgrim,’ which describes the experiences of a Russian peasant who tramped from place to place practicing the Jesus Prayer. This is a most attractive little work…” Ware, p. 121

48 R.M. French, The Way of the Pilgrim: And the Pilgrim Continues His Way (New York: Harper Collins,1991), pp. 17-18

49 Matthew 6:7

50 “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” Matthew 6:9-13

51 From the Saint Gregory Palamas Greek Orthodox Monastery Web Site (http://sgpm.goarch.org/Monastery/index.php?p=2)

52 Palmer et al., “On Watchfulness and Guarding of the Heart,” p. 206

53 Romans 5:5

54 French, pp. 17-18

55 Ibid., back cover of book.

56 http://www.stots.edu/news_051031_1.html

57 Gregory Palamas, The Triads, Tr. by John Meyendorf and Nicholas Gendle in Classics of Western Spirituality series (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1983), “Forward”, p xii

58 I Timothy 2:5

59 John 14:6

60 “A characteristic figure in Orthodox monasticism is the ‘elder’ or ‘old man’ (Greek geron; Russian starets, plural startsy). The elder is a monk of spiritual discernment and wisdom, whom others – either monks or people in the world – adopt as their guide and spiritual director. He is sometimes a priest, but often a lay monk; he receives no special ordination or appointment to the work of eldership, but is guided to it by the direct inspiration of the Spirit. A woman as well as a man may be called to this ministry, for Orthodoxy has its ‘spiritual mothers’ as well as its ‘spiritual fathers’. The elder sees in a concrete and practical way what the will of God is in relation to each person who comes to consult him: this is the elder’s special gift or charisma.” Ware, p. 39

61 Ibid.

62 “Among the Greek Fathers there are few if any who are better known to us than St Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022)… His life story illustrates the central significance of spiritual fatherhood within the Orthodox mystical tradition.” Palmer et al., “Practical and Theological Texts, St Symeon The New Theologian”, Introductory Note, p. 11

63 “…whilst its importance and popularity made it an obvious choice for the standard anthology of Orthodox mysticism, called the ‘Philokalia’” (http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/symeon_threeways.html)

64 Palmer et al., “The Three Methods of Prayer”, p. 70.

65 Palmer et al., “Philip, Practical and Theological Texts”, p. 37

66 Acts 5:29

67 II Corinthians 1:24

68 Romans 8:15

69 Palmer et al., “The Three Methods of Prayer”, p. 69

70 James 3:2-3

71 Luke 6:43

72 Philippians 3:17-19

73 III John 1:11-12

74 “One of the most beloved Holy Fathers is St. Symeon the New Theologian, who was the abbot of St. Mamas in Constantinople. He is one of three great Fathers whom the Orthodox Church has granted the title of “Theologian” because he is one of a few, in the history of Christianity, to ‘know’ God. The other two Theologians are St. John the Evangelist, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus (390 AD).” (http://home.it.net.au/~jgrapsas/pages/symeon.htm)

75 Ware, p. 66

76 “The works of St Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022), the greatest of the Byzantine Mystics, are full of this ‘Light Mysticism’.” Ware, p. 66

77 Ibid., p. 67

78 http://www.antiochian.org/gregory-palamas

79…the spiritual ecstasy that we find especially [in], Gregory Palamas…” (http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/christou_partakers_glory.html)

80 Palamas, p. 35

81 Mark 9:2

82 Palamas, p. 61

83 Ephesians 1:13

84 Galatians 3:2, 11

85 Palamas, p. 61

86 Ibid., “Deification in Christ”, p. 57

87 Acts 7:55

88 Matthew 13:11

89 Psalms 119:105

90 Palamas, p. 63

91 Ibid.

92 Acts 17:11

93 “… the spiritual ecstasy that we find in Gregory of Nyssa , Maximos the Confessor , some other Fathers , and especially, Gregory Palamas…” (http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/christou_partakers_glory.html)

94 II Timothy 3:16-17

95 Romans 8:9

96 II John 1:2