Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Conspiracy Theories gone way too far

I'd rather not have to say anything about this, but since I've occasionally recommended Scott Johnson's talks at Sermon Audio I really do have to note when he goes too far. I've written him about this too.

In recent talks he's repeated the false information that healings had occurred at Obama events. This is a story that was made up by a satirical website, Lark News. I had written him about it earlier and I have to suppose others did too, but he continues to pass along the false information.

Now on his latest topic he speaks very sarcastically of the government's financing of the switch to digital TV, wondering about their supposed eagerness to impose this new technology on us to the extent that they'd finance it. It doesn't seem to occur to him that not everything is a conspiracy and there may be perfectly reasonable explanations for some things. In this case why assume anything more suspicious than that the technology is now available to improve television enormously but since it is going to require a complete switch from the old technology to the new the public needs to be aggressively prepared for it. And since it's going to make all the older TVs obsolete the government has an obligation to help people pay for the switch.

There may very well be conspiracies afoot in the world that we need to know about, but unfortunately there is such a thing as conspiracy thinking that always sees conspiracies where there is really no justification for it. It is a violation of the virtue of charity to keep implying evil motives in people with as little justification as your own ability to imagine that a new technology could be misused. A quote from this same teaching has it that
. . .any television manufactured after 1995 already has a built in feature to send abroadcast signal from your living room of live images of what’s happening in your home.

A bit alarming, no? Does it occur to him to ask whether this is perhaps a POTENTIAL feature that a person could choose to activate or not, the way you can choose to use a webcam or Skype to broadcast yourself as people now do? Does it occur to him that there are civil liberties hounds who would be up in arms at the use of such a technology against the will of the people?

We can't find out the truth about any of this if the person presenting it has a locked-in conspiracy mental set. This attitude compromises everything he says. If he wants to be helpful he's going to have to realize that even if his material is "documented" it doesn't prove that the interpretation of it all is correct. There is no doubt a potential for a lot of technologies to be misused, but technology in itself is morally neutral.

In earlier teachings Dr. Johnson also appears to be much too credulous toward the many-times-debunked Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as well as the "Merovingian" blood lines conspiracy notion. I haven't the knowledge to criticize these things carefully myself but Dr. Johnson SHOULD require himself to have that knowledge before he speaks and should not so irresponsibly pass on such material that has been criticized carefully by others.

You need to be a LOT more careful, Dr. Johnson.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Degrees of Faith?

Stories of escape from the attacks on Westerners at hotels in Mumbai (Bombay) have been going around. I've heard two full reports now and some brief accounts as well, some miraculous escapes in some cases, such as near misses, odd circumstances keeping a person out of harm's way and so on. There were many such stories about escape from the WTC towers on 9/11 too, stories showing God's hand in various rescues, faith-building stories. I appreciate these stories. They are inspiring.

But they also raise a question in my mind whether saving our lives is of such high priority in the Christian life. The emphasis is always on the saving of the life, you see. A hero's death may also be inspiring too of course.

Both of the stories about escape from Mumbai (Bombay) emphasize the person's focused aim of escaping. They don't claim to be Christians exactly, but they do mention God, and there's no doubt that God saved them. I don't doubt that for a moment. But I do wonder about being focused on escaping because Jesus said we are not to try to save our own lives but to lose our lives for His sake.

Didn't He? But people will object if you point that out to them. They will say that maybe we are to try to save ourselves to be of use later or something like that. I think that misses the point of Jesus' teaching.

I'm not talking about the immediate aim of avoiding sure death. I don't think that's what Jesus meant -- unless you have a clear leading from Him to be doing something else in the situation rather than avoiding death of course. I'm talking about the exclusive focus on escape as opposed to seeking God's will in the circumstance.

God may use us whether or not we are being obedient, but obeying Him and dying to ourselves should at the very least mean that we aren't seeking to save ourselves from a calamity but putting His will above our own and seeking what He wants of us in that situation. If we are seeking Him then we can know in our spirit what He wants of us, we don't have to be blind to His will. We may remain blind to His will of course, that's up to Him, but we may not: He may show us something clear that He wants of us. It is possible He simply wants to lead us out of there, but more likely He would have us serve others in some way, as He did when He walked this earth and still does from heaven. This would involve self-sacrifice of course, even if we are protected from harm and eventually escape. It is by definition a sacrifice of self to put others ahead of ourselves.

I've been mulling over lately how easy it seems to be for this kind of teaching to be misunderstood, indeed not even recognized at all by Christians. Someone may accuse me of "seeking martyrdom" by simply quoting Jesus' saying we are to lose our lives for His sake, even if the context is clearly circumstances over which a person has no control. Someone else may think I'm denying that God is in control of whether we live or die if I say that saving onself is not to be our priority, based on the same quote. I'm never quite prepared for such misunderstandings. It makes me think that the Sermon on the Mount is not really taken seriously.

This was the response of a couple of people to what I wrote in response to one of the Mumbai stories, here:

What a story. Touching to hear of all the Indians helping him. I wonder if Alex or his friends were killed or let go?

I'm sure I'd react with full-bore adrenaline too (which would probably give me a heart attack but oh well), but these stories usually make me wonder how as a Christian I SHOULD react, and saving my own life shouldn't be top priority. Of course it sounds impossibly idealistic but Jesus' teachings ARE counterintuitive, clearly aimed at overcoming our natural self-protective reactions by His power, as He overcame when He went to the cross for us. We're to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors for instance, forgive our enemies and not call for their death. It's the Spirit-powered Christian response that wins people, not anything we do in the flesh. Better to convert a terrorist even while dying at his hand than escape. Truly. We're to die to self and saving our lives will lose our lives, but losing them for His sake will save them. Jesus' teaching is full of such paradoxes. We're to fear nothing, not those who can take our physical lives but only Him who has power over our eternal lives. "Perfect love casts out fear." We're to put others ahead of ourselves, those who were milling around dazed for instance. If we really lived like this, something impossible to us and possible only by God's own power, Ducky could have nothing to say against us ever.

I know this is all talk coming from me, and the walk would be an adrenaline-powered run same as the writer's unless God gave me an infusion of grace at that moment to obey Him, and I'm truly glad for this man's escape and the story he has to tell, but I can't help at least KNOWING what God would want me to be doing instead. I truly believe that this is the Christian life as God wants us to live it, in His power, and I'm well aware of my own failure to do so. What power the church would have if we learned this life as Jesus teaches it.

I believe this. I yearn for this power, this total self-giving to God's will. Most Christians, however, seem content to recognize God's hand in their lives. I don't mean to minimize such a recognition; it's wonderful. It's faith, it's belief, it's salvation.

But is the Sermon on the Mount to be regarded as something beyond normal Christian life? What gets called the "Higher Christian Life" is really just obedience to Jesus, it seems to me.

President Bush is no born-again Christian

A couple of reports on Bush's admission that he's not a literal Bible-believer, from a site called The Apostolic Report and another from AOL. He doesn't believe the Bible is literally true and he believes that other religions worship the same God Christians do.

Is it possible he is a born-again Christian with such beliefs? He had convinced many of us of that when we voted for him. But can you consider God's word to be inaccurate or incomplete in any way and be His child? Can you consider all religions to be true worship of the one true God and still belong to God? I don't see how. Isn't this denying the exclusivity of the sending of God's own Son to die for us, which is known only in the Bible? If you deny the Son Jesus says you will be denied by God. If Jesus said He is "the way, the truth and the life" and that "no one comes to the Father but by Me," then all those who deny that He is the only way to the Father but hope to get to the Father some other way are not God's.

This ought to have been apparent at the point Bush declared Islam to be "a religion of peace" or even more particularly, when he allowed a Muslim leader to pray along with other clergy in the National Cathedral after 9/11. Having a Jewish leader or a Catholic pray there is really already the same thing of course. 9/11 was already God's judgment on this nation, and there have been more judgments in the form of disasters since then as well, but including false religions in the National Cathedral, instead of mollifying God's wrath against the nation can only invite more. It is no different than the worship of the false god Tammuz in Solomon's Temple as reported by Ezekiel in the Old Testament, or any of the worship of false gods by the Israelites, done along with the true God, as reported for the people of Israel at various times, including King Solomon. We were given the Old Testament as admonition but who is paying attention? This is direct disobedience of the Commandment to "have no other gods before Me." Who can be God's child who does such a thing?

Obama's "Christianity" is even worse, but then Obama's winning the Presidency is God's judgment on the nation in itself (Well, so was Bush's, so was Clinton's etc. etc. etc). Sin begets sin.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Living Sacrifice

I receive weekly teachings from pastor Zac Poonen of Bangalore, India, whom I discovered a few months ago while looking for inspiring teaching on revival. He has continued to inspire me.

I have been in churches that preach that Christians are to observe a literal Sabbath on Sunday and to tithe a literal 10% minimum to the church, and I've been to churches that "spiritualize" either or both. The preaching on both sides can be quite convincing, but I'm now persuaded that the New Covenant has no literal requirements, but being all a matter of walking by the Spirit would have us live the Sabbath fulfilled in Jesus Christ every day, and to give as He prompts us without reference to an external standard. Pastor Poonen elaborates this view, though I think he goes too far in accusing those of the other view of bad motives:


Always Put God First In Your Life

Zac Poonen

In Malachi 3: 8-11 The Lord says, "Will a man rob [orcheat] God? Yet you are robbing Me. But you say, `How have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing [defrauding] Me, the whole nation of you. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until there is not room enough. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes".

Did you know that tithing is not mentioned even once after the day of Pentecost (when the new covenant was instituted)? Tithing is not commanded under the new covenant at all – yet multitudes of covetous pastors still preach it today and exploit poor, ignorant believers. Jesus did not teach His disciples to tithe but to give. What do we have to give to God first of all? Romans 12:1 states, "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, present your bodies (not your tithes) as a living sacrifice to God."

Just as paying the tithe was emphasised under the old covenant, presenting our bodies to God is what is emphasised in the new covenant. Tithing was meant to be a type, just like the Passover lamb and the Sabbath day. The lamb was a type of Christ, and the Sabbath was a type of the inward rest that Christ gives us. These Old Testament rituals were all shadows of what was finally fulfilled in Christ (as Colossians 2:16,17 makes crystal clear).

Concerning tithing, God had said, "The purpose of tithing is to teach you always to put God first in your lives" (Deut.14:23-Living Bible). Under the old covenant, they offered their tithes to prove that God was first in their lives. In the new covenant, we present our bodies to God and thus prove that He is first in our lives.

What does it mean to offer our bodies? It means giving our eyes to God so that we never use them for ourselves again. Is that easier or is it easier to give 10% of your income to God? You know that it is far easier to give 10% of our income each month to God than to keep our eyes pure each day of that month. That is why preachers teach tithing more than keeping our eyes pure. Many pastors are lovers of money and they want their congregation to tithe so that they can become rich from those tithes. Since there is no justification at all for tithing in the new covenant, they use this verse in Malachi to frighten ignorant believers into paying their tithes every month.

The early apostles were poor, as we can see clearly from 1 Corinthians 4:9-12: "God has exhibited us apostles last of all……To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands." But consider the mathematics of how a covetous pastor today becomes wealthy. If 10 people give him one-tenth of their income, he gets one man's average salary (because 10 X 10% = 100%). This is reasonable.

But well-known pastors receive tithes from hundreds of God's people. If even 100 people give their tithes to a pastor, his income will become ten times that of the average man – and very soon he will become a millionaire, at the expense of his supporters! And then in order to justify his becoming wealthy, he will begin to preach prosperity as the mark of God's blessing (from the Old Testament – Deuteronomy 28:5,8,11) – and his flock is deceived. This is the deception flooding Christendom today, all over the world, and it is all being done in the Name of Jesus. The money-changers are back in the temple of God – and there is no-one to drive them out, as Jesus did; and there is hardly any preacher who is bold enough to expose these confidence tricksters.

Then how much money should we to give for God's work? Only what we can give cheerfully – for God does not love those who give money under pressure, or who give in order to get something from Him (See 2 Cor.9:8). First give your body to the Lord and then give whatever money you want to give cheerfully, but never as an obligation and certainly not out of fear. I hope this understanding of God's Word liberates you from false teaching.

So I have to inject here that I don't think most pastors who teach a literal tithe have any questionable motives, but sincerely believe that it is required of Christians. In the average church with this viewpoint the tithe is not considered the property of the pastor but of the church for God's purposes, and managed by the elders for many needs in the church, the pastor receiving a designated salary from it.

There are of course some high profile teachers who fleece the flock but these are not representative, and I'm not sure but I think these don't normally preach the tithe anyway, but of giving the most you can give. Investigations of some TV preachers have shown that they live personally at a level of expense available only to the very wealthiest. I understand why Pastor Poonen would preach against these Prosperity Doctrine false teachers of course. He often laments that Christian leaders in India have a tendency to pick up the worst teachings from the West.