Posts tagged Jesus Christ
"Therefore Keep Watch" - Watching the Signs vs. Conspiracy Theorizing
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“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” – Jesus Christ, Matthew 24:42

Watching the signs of the times is not an optional matter but a direct command. Not only is watching a direct command but it is an enormous blessing as well. The blessing comes in how the signs divulge to us the immanency of Jesus’ return. Likewise, they
advise us to keep our priorities straight and rouse us when we are dispirited. Not watching, therefore, would not only be disobedience to Jesus’ mandate, but it would be foolish as well. Don Hosser, author of Jesus' Warning to "Watch" - Just What Did He Mean? put it well when he wrote:
Our God-ordained responsibility is to watch and pray. Ignorance comes from ignoring, and God does not want us to be ignorant and "in darkness" (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10). Our Master and role model Jesus Christ certainly understood the issues, politics and personalities of His day. We should do likewise.[i]
Jesus said, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”[ii] In the same way that a New Jersey resident knows the summer is near because the cherry blossoms are sprouting up everywhere and a pregnant woman knows that the delivery is near because the contractions get closer and closer, Jesus says that we too can know when His return is near because of the signs that will be taking place. Therefore, we should watch and be vigilant.

But how exactly do we watch the signs of the times? Do we install a program in our computer that updates us whenever there is a natural disaster? Do we search endlessly for charts and data on modern epidemics and plagues? Do we scour through the newspaper each day looking for any possible hint of upcoming wars? Most importantly, do we enter the realm of speculation more commonly known as conspiracy theorizing?

In the past month I have written two articles dealing with the issue of Christians and Conspiracy Theories and Ellen White and Conspiracy Theories. My intention in writing these articles is not to contend negatively with anyone who finds great value in this type of activity, nor is it to judge, criticize or condemn. Instead, my intention is to call attention to what I believe is one of the most damaging diversions that affect Christians today. A Seventh-day Adventist pastor and theology professor who commented on the basis of anonymity stated,
There is a lot of speculative theorizing both inside and outside the church. It needs to stop. It does not help our witness at all, but turns people away from the truth as it is in Jesus.[iii]
I could not have said it better myself. While worldliness appeals to the love of the flesh, conspiracies appeal to the love of prophecy and the mandate of Jesus to “watch.” Many marvelous Christians caught up in this way of thinking do not even consider the material that they embrace as speculation or conspiracy thinking but view it as indisputable truth. I remember when I used to be fascinated with such things. In my opinion, those who rejected the “conspiracy theories” were foolish and had their eyes shut to what was truly going on. They were, in my estimation, delusional optimists who preferred their comfortable ignorance to the uncomfortable realities of our modern society, and as such would be easily deceived by the lies of governments and institutions. However, what I soon came to discover was that it was I who was deceived for in all of my zealous vindication of conspiracy theories (which I considered obvious facts and not theories) I had missed one crucial matter – the development of a Christlike character. I have since come to realize that not only was I un-Christlike but also everyone I knew who was engulfed in such profligate trumpery. Indeed, all of my “watching the signs of the times” had made me more like the wicked in character than like the righteous. While I won’t elaborate on the negative effects that brooding over conspiracy theories does to one’s character here, (I have already done that in the article Christians and Conspiracy Theories) I would like to point out that due to its harmful effects such activity cannot possibly be what Jesus meant when He commanded us to “watch.”
So how do you watch the signs of the times without being allured by the sensational speculations of brilliant men and women who claim to know “what’s truly going on”? In fact, it seems that in many cases, it is not even possible to watch without researching such material. In order to unravel this puzzle it is first necessary to explore the difference between Jesus’ mandate to “watch” the signs of the times and conspiracy theorizing.

Stephen Bauer, professor of theology and ethics, reminds us that “watching is commanded by Christ….” However, according to Bauer, “conspiracy theories speculate on how the end events may occur. This is not the same as looking for events themselves.”[iv] This distinction is seconded by professor of biblical studies Greg A. King when he states that, “watching the signs of the times, as it is biblically encouraged for us to do, would be viewing prophecies like Matthew 24 and the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.” King encourages us to “be aware of the lines of prophetic interpretation” but simultaneously encourages not to “focus so much on the sensational or the spectacular events.” King reminds us that the true sign that Jesus is coming soon is not a political sign but the gospel being preached to all the world. This, according to King, should be our main focus.[v]

Thus, the primary difference between watching the signs of the times and conspiracy theorizing is that one focuses on clear biblical truths while the other speculates regarding those truths. A Gotquestions.org article on this topic got it right when it states that “conspiracy theories… place too much emphasis on worldly matters.”[vi] Not only this, but conspiracy theorizing places too much emphasis on the work of the devil. Sure, as Lance Winslow wrote, “conspiracy theories are fun to think about and they are interesting,”[vii] however, the reality is that they are not what Jesus had in mind when he told us to “watch.” Not once in the Biblical record do you find Jesus or his apostles speculating or preaching sensational things like conspiracy theories – and they would have had plenty to say! Each of them was persecuted by government and religious institutions yet you never find any chapters speculating about government secrets or plans to persecute the church. Instead, the Biblical writers always stick to the obvious, never going beyond what is clear, and even then they don’t give the work of evil too much focus. When Jesus commanded us to watch the signs of the times he intended that we would be aware of his soon return and not that we would be obsessed with the Illuminati, Freemasons, or the truth behind 911. Jesus said, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.” This is watching the signs of the times. Conspiracy theorizing, however, would be equivalent to using magnifying glass and a microscope to analyze every little detail in the tree. If you saw someone doing this, wouldn’t you think they were wasting their time?

So we know that watching the signs of the times is not the same as conspiracy theorizing, but at what point does a study on end time events become a study on speculation? One theologian put it well when he said,
…when one moves away from the facts to guessing about peoples’ motives or how things will turn out in the future rather than considering the events of the past or present, one moves into speculation.  It is critical when studying end-time events to stick to objective facts about the past or present, not speculating about the future or about motives of people or organizations.[viii] 
The rule of thumb is simple. Once you approach the tree (signs of the times) with a magnifying glass (conspiracy theories/ speculation) you have crossed the line between watching and speculating. Some may argue and say that it is not speculation or conspiracy theorizing if the evidence is insurmountable. However, this is the same as saying that so long as you are telling the truth about someone then it’s not gossip. It still is gossip because regardless of how true it is it is damaging and hurtful to those involved in it. Conspiracy theories may, in fact, be 100% accurate, but they are still damaging to those who pay them attention. Thus, the truth remains that “[e]ndless speculation about conspiracy theories is, at best, a waste of time.[ix] Always remember that speculation begins when you “go beyond the basic textual facts to try to figure out exactly… [what] will happen.”[x]

However, this brings up a fundamental question. It is necessary, when studying prophecy, to study extra biblical material such as history books. This extra-biblical material helps us understand the events, nations, and dangers that the prophecies are delineating. Extra-biblical material is, therefore, needful when studying prophecy. For example, the proper use of history helps Daniel 2 come alive. However, while there are tons of historical, political, and sociological books that can help us understand prophecy, “not all of it is valid, useful, or accurate. Evaluating sources of information that you are considering using in your writing is an important step in any research activity.”[xi] So how do we know when the extra biblical material we are using is reliable? The best rule of thumb is variety. “The more sources who see the same thing, the more credible.”[xii] For example, many Seventh-day Adventist evangelists have been known to tell a story with utterly no historical support besides protestant propaganda. This story is the one that purports that Constantine baptized his entire pagan army into Christianity by having them march through a river. Many Adventist evangelists could have avoided spreading an undocumented rumor if they had simply read more than one book from different sources. Many Christians end up with all kinds of odd theories because they read a book that supposedly reveals the real truth behind some issue. However, variety is not the only rule of thumb. While we should always remember to “[be] wary of one historian who is the only one who thinks X is the case,”[xiii] we should also remember that in our study “[t]here needs to be documentation from reliable sources.”[xiv] Peer reviewed scholarly sources are the most reliable because they go through a review process in which the claims and work of the author come under scrutiny by a variety of experts. This automatically gets rid of the vast majority of books claiming to unveil some secret conspiracy theory because “[c]onspiracy theories are not generally documented from reliable sources. They are speculative theories, generally put forward by people who do not have a balanced view and whose theories are not supported by mainstream media or reputable investigative reporting.”[xv] Finally, when choosing material for your research, always remember that “[i]f you believe everything you read you will begin to read everything you believe.”[xvi]

While all this may be helpful, none of it will make any difference to the individual who sees no harm in entertaining conspiracy theories. In Christians and Conspiracy theories I delineate a variety of harmful effects that such activity can promulgate. The reality is that “[m]any conspiracy theories feed fear and prey on ignorance and gullibility.”[xvii] A study published in The Journal of Social Psychology provides evidence of a connection between conspiracy theorizing and attitude change. In other words, entertaining and believing such things actually has an effect on our behavior.[xviii] In my experience, Christians who engage in conspiracy theorizing do exhibit behavioral change. A family member who commented on the basis of anonymity stated,
A very close relative of mine was the sweetest lady I had ever known, very Christlike, care free, positive, optimistic, fun, and happy. After being introduced by fellow Adventists (who would be considered extremists by the Adventist church) to conspiracy theories about 70% of her personality changed for the worst. She’s still sweet and would do anything for you if she could but she is more negative, afraid, and suspicious of everyone and everything, critical, anxious, pessimistic, and you rarely hear her commenting on the gospel anymore. Her focus is now on theories that are negative which has negatively affected her outlook on life. I’m not saying she’s a mean person but she’s definitely not who she used to be. When I myself started to get into conspiracy theories my attitude began to change the same way. Today I stay away from those sorts of things and in fact I actually hate them. Unlike before I now experience the abundant life that God promises to his children.[xix]  
What other dangerous effects of conspiracy theorizing are there? Stephen Bauer summarizes the dangers of conspiracy theorizing well:
1) We undermine Scripture by going beyond it, yet treating our speculations like they are Scripture.  Eve did this, adding the "don't touch" provision beyond what God said.  Thus, when the snake threw the fruit into her hands (as per Ellen White) and she touched the fruit without dying, it undermined in her mind what God actually said.  50-60 years ago, SDA evangelists included strong assertions that the Israelite nation would never be rebuilt. So the inception of Israel in 1948 destroyed their credibility to many minds.  Best not to over-claim [than to] be proven wrong. It will undermine confidence in Scripture and in the speaker! 2. It fuels a sensationalism - religion rooted in excitement and feeling instead of living quietly by faith. As such this undermines the principles of Righteousness by Faith.[xx]
In conclusion, Jesus expects us to watch the signs of the times, but delving into conspiracies is not what he had in mind when he asked us to watch and be vigilant. Therefore, when studying end time events we should keep a sharp eye as to when we are crossing the line between Biblical and historical evidence into speculation. A good way to avoid this is to be cautious during the research process, being intentional about seeking a variety of views, and utilizing only those materials which are reliable. Even if conspiracy theories are true, they shouldn’t commandeer our attention. Entertaining conspiracy theories is actually harmful – especially to those who profess faith in Christ. So when watching the signs of the times, or studying the apocalyptic literature of scripture, be careful to “[s]tick to descriptive, objective, well documented facts from the past and present. [And] [a]void predicting the future or judging motives.”[xxi] Even when studying Biblical prophecy do not let that overshadow the rest of scripture. Greg King put it well when he said that although we should study the prophecies we should also remember Psalms 23 – The Lord is my Shepherd.[xxii] Above all things, ask the Holy Spirit to lead you. God is our strong tower. So long as we let Him lead we can be sure that we will arrive safely to the heavenly shore.

Further Reading:









[i] Hosser, Don. Jesus' Warning to "Watch" - Just What Did He Mean? http://www.ucg.org/bible-study/jesus-warning-watch-just-what-did-he-mean
[ii] Luke 21:29, NIV
[iii] Anonymous, Professor Religion. e-mail to author, January 28, 2013.
[iv] Bauer, Stephen. e-mail to author, January 28, 2013.
[v] King, Greg. Interview. January 28, 2013.
[vi] http://www.gotquestions.org/conspiracy-theories.html
[vii] Winslow, Lance. Conspiracy Theory Case Study - US President Is an Alien http://ezinearticles.com/?Conspiracy-Theory-Case-Study---US-President-Is-an-Alien&id=6946117
[viii] Anonymous, Professor Religion. e-mail to author, January 28, 2013.
[ix] http://www.gotquestions.org/conspiracy-theories.html
[x] Bauer, Stephen. e-mail to author, January 28, 2013.
[xi] Driscoll, Dana Lynn & Allen Brizee. Evaluating Sources: Overview http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/553/1/
[xii] Bauer, Stephen. e-mail to author, January 28, 2013.
[xiii] ibid.
[xiv] Anonymous, Professor Religion. e-mail to author, January 28, 2013.
[xv] ibid.
[xvi] Grant, Victoria A. Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies! Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/6812791
[xvii] http://www.gotquestions.org/conspiracy-theories.html
[xviii] Douglas, Karen M., & Robbie M. Sutton. The Journal of Social Psychology http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.3200/SOCP.148.2.210-222
[xix] Anonymous. Personal interview. January 31, 2013
[xx] Bauer, Stephen. e-mail to author, January 28, 2013
[xxi] Anonymous, Professor Religion. e-mail to author, January 28, 2013.
[xxii] King, Greg A. Personal interview. January 28, 2013.
Ellen G. White and Conspiracy Narratives

I recently shared an article titled The End Times and Conspiracy Narratives. In it I shared some thoughts regarding the relationship between Christians in general and the ever increasing popularity of conspiracy narratives. In this post, I would like to focus more on Seventh-day Adventists and their relationship to conspiracy narratives/theories by sharing some thoughts from the life of church co-founder and prophetess Ellen G. White.

The first thing to point out is that Ellen White didn’t really deal with the issue of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories, while growing in her day, where not as widespread as they are today. However, she certainly lived in a time when indulgence in conspiracy theories was growing. The Illuminati and Free Masons were already on the scene, and strange narratives regarding their agenda, power, and political control were spreading. In an article in Publiceye.org titled “The Illuminati Freemason Conspiracy” the author states that “[t]he idea of a widespread freemason conspiracy originated in the late 1700's and flourished in the US in the 1800's.”[i] Nevertheless, Ellen White herself never engaged in such activity. 

For example, the Illuminati was founded in 1776, just fifty-one years before Ellen White was born. If knowledge of the Illuminati and their inner workings were necessary then apparently God didn’t see fit to tell Ellen White about it. In all of her writings there is not one syllable devoted to the Illuminati. The Free Masons were also born late in the 16th or early 17th century. During Ellen Whites day, Free Mason conspiracy theories abounded. Yet once again, Ellen Whites writings are void of such conspiracy theories.

Ellen White did talk about the Free Masons. Nevertheless, when dealing with the Free Masons it’s important to note what she said and what she didn’t say. Ellen White counseled, under Gods direction, that Christians stay away from the Free Mason society for practical and obvious reasons. She even worked personally with an Adventist who was involved in the fraternity and God gave her special knowledge of their inner workings in order to impress upon the mind of this man that he was indeed speaking through her. However, not only did Ellen White never go on to share the inside knowledge God gave her in any of her work, but even the reasons she gave in opposition to joining the fraternity were simply practical and void of any promulgation of conspiracy narratives.

So far we have seen that Ellen White, though certainly having had opportunities, never engaged in conspiracy theory talk. This should in and of itself cause those of us who value her prophetic example and are nevertheless fascinated with such things to wonder if perhaps we are wasting our time with pointless investigations. However, I would also like to point out some quotations from Ellen White (with personal comments in brackets) that give us principles to keep in mind when dealing with this issue.

“We need far less controversy [a characteristic of conspiracy theories], and far more presentation of Christ. Our Redeemer is the center of all our faith and hope” (EV, 172).

“Our work is not to make a raid on the Government but to prepare a people to stand in the great day of the Lord. The fewer attacks we make on authorities and powers, the more work will we do for God....[Conspiracy theories do exactly what we are told not to do in this quote] Do all in your power to reflect the light, but do not speak words that will irritate or provoke” (EV, 173).

“You should have a clear apprehension of the gospel. The religious life is not one of gloom and of sadness but of peace and joy coupled with Christlike dignity and holy solemnity [Those fascinated with conspiracy theories often exemplify a doom and gloom version of Christianity and not the peace and joy that should be had]. We are not encouraged by our Saviour to cherish doubts and fears and distressing forebodings; these bring no relief to the soul and should be rebuked rather than praised [Conspiracy theories nourish doubts, fears, and distressing forebodings. Rather than praise these things by our focus on them we should rebuke them by ignoring them]. We may have joy unspeakable and full of glory. Let us put away our indolence and study God’s Word more constantly” (EV, 180).

“I have been shown that it is the device of the enemy to divert men’s minds to some obscure or unimportant point, something that is not fully revealed or is not essential to salvation [a classic description of conspiracy theories]. This is made the absorbing theme, the “present truth,” when all the investigations and suppositions only serve to make matters more obscure and to confuse the minds of some who ought to be seeking for oneness through sanctification of the truth” (EV, 182).

“A noble, devoted, spiritual worker will see in the great testing truths that constitute the solemn message to be given to the world, sufficient reason for keeping all minor differences concealed, rather than to bring them forth to become subjects of contention. Let the mind dwell upon the great work of redemption, the soon coming of Christ, and the commandments of God; and it will be found that there is enough food for thought in these subjects to take up the entire attention [If we spent more time getting to know Jesus we wouldn’t have time for speculations. Conspiracy theorists often have much knowledge of many things but they are lacking in the preciousness of Jesus. Rather than allure they repel those around them]” (EV, 183).

“Satan is pleased when we magnify his power [This is the nature of conspiracy theories]. Why not talk of Jesus? Why not magnify His power and His love” (MHH, 43)?

While these statements may not be directly dealing with the issue of conspiracy theories I don’t see how one can engage in entertaining such things without violating the principles they advocate. With this in mind, it is clear that Ellen White did not see conspiracy theorizing as a necessary element of preparing for last day deceptions.

However, Ellen White is not our example – Jesus Christ is. In Jesus we find our pattern, one that focused on showing mercy, love, and empathy to the suffering and whom wasted no time engaging in such fruitless things as conspiracy narratives. Ellen White wrote,

Millions upon millions of human beings, in sickness and ignorance and sin, have never so much as heard of Christ’s love for them. If our condition and theirs were to be reversed, what would we want them to do for us? All this, so far as lies in our power, we are to do for them. Christ’s rule of life by which every one of us must stand or fall in the judgment is, “‘Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.’” Matthew 7:12[ii]

In conclusion I ask, what would you want a Christian to do for you if you were lost? Would you want him/her to share with you how the shirt you are wearing has masonic symbols, a DVD on how the Bush administration plotted 911, or how the music you like has satanic lyrics recorded backwards? Or would you like her to tell you of Jesus love for you? What would you want him to say? When your heart is bleeding, when your debt is overwhelming, when your marriage is ending, when your guilt is so strong its crushing you, sitting there in your living room with your world falling to pieces around you – what would you want to hear? I don’t know about you, but I would want to hear that there is a Savior who “regards with infinite tenderness the souls whom He has purchased with His own blood. They are the claim of His love. He looks upon them with unutterable longing.”[iii] I would want to know that there is one whose name is Jesus who can save the worst of the worst. When my heart is broken, speak to me of His love! When sin has me bound in iron chains, tell me of His power! When I am lost, nowhere left to go, talk to me of the “One who can calm the raging seas, give sight to the blind, pull the lame up to their feet”.[iv] Tell me “God loves you Marcos," "[w]ith a love so strong he'll never let you go... you [are] not alone”.[v]

Seventh-day Adventist, I appeal to you – speak of Jesus. Tell of His love. Tell of His grace. Tell of His power. Tell of His soon return! Talk of how He longs for us to be with Him. Talk of how He can save the worst of sinners. Let Him be your theme and song. Let Him be your every breath. If you and I would do this, if we would choose daily to lift Him up we would never go wrong. Never.

______________

[i] http://www.publiceye.org/tooclose/masons.html
[ii] White, Ellen G. The Ministry of Health and Healing, p 48.
[iii] ibid, p 20.
[iv] Wickham, Phil. Safe. http://www.elyricsworld.com/safe_lyrics_phil_wickham.html
[v] ibid.
Jesus' First Words & Why They Matter (A Christmas Devotional)




Christmas is here! Aren't you excited? I hope so, because this is seriously "the most wonderful time of the year". And as we all enter our celebration modes, I would like to take a moment to share a devotional article to help keep your gaze on Jesus during this festive season.

Sadly, the Bible doesn't tell us what Jesus first words as a baby were. I would love to know, but something tells me none of the biographers thought it was that important. However, the first recorded words of Jesus give us a lot to think about as we celebrate his birth.


“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” – Luke 2:49

The Passover
Chronologically speaking, these are the first words Jesus ever spoke recorded in scripture. At this time, Jesus was only twelve years old. His parents Mary and Joseph had taken a trip from their home town in Galilee up to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. Now what was the Passover? It was one of the many festivals that the Jews celebrated throughout the year. The Passover began when they were slaves in Egypt. The story goes that the nation of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for about 300 years. Then one day, the Egyptian Pharaoh decided to kill of the male Hebrew newborns because he wanted to control the Israelite population. However, one mother hid her son in a basket and placed the basket in the Nile River. That sons name was Moses. Pharaoh’s daughter ended up finding Moses and he became her son. God used Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian slavery. Moses became Gods ambassador to Pharaoh and requested that Pharaoh set the people free but Pharaoh refused. Every time Pharaoh refused God sent a plague on Egypt. First, all of the water in Egypt turned to blood. Then swarms of frogs invaded the country. After that the dust in Egypt became gnats and tormented the people. This was followed by swarms of flies, diseases on the livestock, boils, thunder and hail, locusts and darkness. After all of this Pharaoh still refused to let Israel go so God had to resort to something He never wanted to do: Death. God instructed the people that He would come and all of the first born in Egypt would die irrespective of persons. The only way to avoid this was to take the blood of a lamb and paint the door posts of the house with it. When the Lord came through and saw the blood on the door posts He would pass over that house and nobody would die. If He didn’t see the blood the first born would die. Moses then told Israel, “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.” Shortly after this final plague Pharaoh let Israel go.

The Lamb
Over a thousand years had passed and the Israelites still celebrated the Passover. It was a reminder of Gods power to save. However, it was also a reminder of something more profound. God didn’t show up to kill the firstborns of the Egyptians. No. Anyone who had the blood on the doorposts of their house was passed over. If an Egyptian believed this and put blood on the door posts of their house God would pass over them. If an Israelite didn’t believe this and refused to put blood on the door posts of their house their first born would die. In other words, God didn’t choose who to bless and who to curse based on their race or nationality. No. God chose who to bless and who to curse based on who had the blood. In reality, it’s more accurate to say that God didn’t do the choosing. The people did. Those who chose to accept the blood chose life. Those who chose to reject the blood chose death. God simply carried out the result of the choice. However, the message remains the same: the only hope was the blood. But not any old blood. It had to be the blood of a lamb.

According to the Bible, that lamb in Egypt represented Jesus. And in the same way, as God judges this world He doesn’t do so based on race or ethnicity. He does so based on the blood. If you have accepted Jesus as your savior the blood He spilled on the cross covers you like the blood covered the door posts. When God judges you, you don’t have to be afraid because of the blood. However, there was one more thing. It wasn’t just about putting the blood on the door posts. It was about eating the flesh of the lamb as well. While the angel of death was searching in Egypt, those who had put the blood on their door posts were also instructed to cook the lamb and eat it. So what does this mean for you and me? We can’t use the blood of Jesus as “magic” to escape judgment. When we claim the blood of Jesus we automatically claim his flesh as well.

Now what in the world does that mean? I’m going to use an old word to explain it. The word is “partake.” To partake means “to be active in. [To] have, give, or receive a share of.”[1] When we accept the blood of Jesus over our life we automatically chose to partake of him as well. He is the lamb that was slain so that others could live. He is the God who gave his life so that I could have it and have it forever. When I choose Jesus, I don’t just choose a ticket to heaven. I chose an experience. I partake of him. I walk with him, talk with him, share with him, grow in my relationship with him, and become the kind of person he created me to be. A lot of people want the blood to cover them but they don't want to eat the lamb. In other words, they want Jesus to forgive their sins but they don't want Jesus to live inside of them. But it doesn't work that way. You cant have the blood without the flesh. You can't have the forgiveness without the experience of Jesus within, This is salvation. It’s God covering me with his own blood and then coming inside of me and changing my life for his glory.

Back to the Story
The time for the Passover had come. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate as they did every year. However, something was different this year: Jesus was now twelve years old. For a Jew, this is a really big deal because at the end of the twelfth year they pass from childhood to youth and are given more responsibility.[2] So Jesus is now on the verge of a new experience. With that in mind, the family goes to Jerusalem and celebrates the Passover with countless other Jews. When the festival is over they head back home. On the way home however, Mary and Joseph are shocked to discover that Jesus is not with them. Now allow me to clarify. It’s not that Mary and Joseph were blind. When they went to Jerusalem for the Passover they didn’t just go in the family minivan. No. They walked there with their families which probably numbered high in the double digits. Joseph most likely walked with the men and Mary with the women. All the uncles, aunts, and cousins were there along with many other relatives like Joseph’s other sons. Under such circumstances it would have been easy to leave Jesus behind. Mary could have assumed he was with Joseph, and Joseph could have assumed he was with Mary. Or perhaps they both figured he was with his cousins or half-siblings. Whatever the case, when they had gone a day’s journey they found out he wasn’t with them at all. Immediately mom and dad did a 180 and high-tailed it back to Jerusalem. The story says that they looked for him for three days. I can’t imagine what those three days would have been like. The stress. The anxiety. The sleepless nights.

Then finally on the third day they found him in the temple sitting with some of the religious leaders listening to them and asking them questions. The Bible says that, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”[3] Can you imagine? A group of seasoned religious scholars and theologians who were amazed at what a twelve year old boy, who was the son of a carpenter and lived in a small town, had to say. This isn’t because Jesus was God though. When Jesus (who is God the son) came to this world and became a man he emptied himself of all the power and knowledge he had beforehand. He never stopped being God, but all the advantages available to him as God were put aside. Jesus mother Mary had to teach him the Bible and tell him who he was and what his mission was. Therefore, Jesus' astonishing answers in the temple that day were partly due to how Mary had raised him.

But now we come to the climax of this story. Here is Jesus at his first Passover. The Lamb represents Him. The blood represents his blood. The entire feast is a celebration of his future death for the sins of mankind. He is the son of God, the spotless lamb that takes away the sin of the world. Now I don’t know how. Maybe Mary told him. Maybe the Holy Spirit revealed it to him. Maybe he discovered it by studying the Bible for himself. Or perhaps it’s a combination of all three, but somehow at twelve years old Jesus got it. He figured it out. He was the lamb. All throughout the festival Jesus watched as the lamb was killed. He pondered as they ate the flesh of the lamb. He stayed up at night staring at the stars and talking to God. It all made sense now. People in town said he was an illegitimate child. They said Joseph wasn’t really his father. They made fun of Mary’s so called “angel” story. But Jesus knew her. He knew she wouldn’t lie. Joseph wasn’t really his dad. So who was? Now as he lay in Jerusalem during the Passover festival it finally made sense. His father was God – not in a literal sense because He was God too – but in a temporary sense. The Holy Spirit had miraculously implanted God the son into the womb of a human woman. How? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. Jesus probably didn’t know either. But he believed it by faith. Just as you and I have to accept that he is Gods son by faith, he also had to accept that he was Gods son by faith. Once Jesus had this epiphany he couldn’t wait to go and talk to the religious leaders. He probably wanted to know how much they knew about the prophecies and types concerning the savior. He also remembered that in the Bible it said that Gods presence was in the temple. In his twelve year old mind he probably figured, maybe I can find my father if I go to the temple. He was so enthused by this he didn’t even notice his family leave. God was his father. He wanted to be in his Father’s house. He wanted to meet him. Jesus was probably disappointed to find that Gods presence wasn’t in the temple as it had been in the old days. Wanting to know why he approached the religious leaders and asked. From there the conversation progressed. I don’t know where Jesus slept that night. Most likely he slept somewhere around the temple grounds, but he hung around the temple for at least five days. Why five? Well, he was there during Joseph and Mary’s journey back. They had gone for a whole day when they noticed he wasn’t with them. Then, they came back which would have been another whole day. Then it took them three days to find him which adds up to five. When they finally found him Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Jesus turned. He smiled. Immediately after, his very first words recorded in the Bible are spoken. I bet he said them with confidence. With joy. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Why Should I Care?
These are the very first words of Jesus recorded in the New Testament and they say something powerful about Jesus: That he was the son of God. Deity. God made man. He was and is and will forever be God. How amazing that God would make himself a man, empty himself of all his power, and live with humankind in order to win them back to him. What other god is like that? What other god has ever gone so far to save mankind? What other god has ever gone so far to save me?

The words of Jesus also show us something else. When Mary asks him why he had gone missing, Jesus’ reply was, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” In other words: “It shouldn’t have been hard to find me. You know this is the only place I would be.” Why? Why was Jesus so fascinated with the temple? Because in Jewish times the temple wasn’t a place to go sing songs and hear a sermon. The Jewish temple was specifically designed to reveal to the world the entire plan of salvation. The Jewish temple announced the foundational reality of salvation and it’s this: “You can’t save yourself. I will do it. So I’ll come down. Become a man. Live a perfect life. Die a sinner’s death. And by doing so, I will make salvation available to everyone who believes."

This was the message of the Jewish temple. And Jesus was its fulfillment. The lamb came down and gave his life for mankind. Before sin even entered the world God had a plan to save humanity. Jesus was that plan. He was “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.”[4]

So as you celebrate Christmas this year, keep in mind the little baby boy, born to live, to conquer, to suffer, to die, and to rise again - the perfect sacrifice that makes our eternal salvation secure.

Merry Christmas!

___________

[1] Rhymezone.com. http://rhymezone.com/r/d=partake_in
[2] SDA Bible Commentary
[3] Luke 2:47
[4] Rev. 13:8
Enigma (part 4): Discovering the "Edge"
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
The word enigma means "a person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand."[1] This is a perfect description of post-modernism. A friend who is deeply involved in post-modern outreach recently told me that it may take more than 100 years before we can look back and make sense of it all. And this is why post-moderns are taking the church for a spin, no one understands them and if we cant understand them we cant connect with them.

However, the situation is not as bleak as some may paint it to be. Post-modernism, while presenting serious challenges to Christian evangelism, also has elements that make it one of the most attractive cultures to reach. Not only that, but I would like to propose that in many ways post-moderns themselves do not fully embrace their own philosophy and are in fact searching for something better. Allow me to elaborate on these two points.

Older generations always have a way of complaining about how newer generations are so much worse than they were. Just pop in on a conversation about the "kids these days" and you are likely to get inundated with an ocean of superiority complex. Those who take the "older generation" side complain about how kids no longer respect their adults like they used to, work hard for something, or are willing to sacrifice. To them this new generation is spoiled, has a misplaced sense of entitlement, and has no respect for the values and traditions of the elder generation. While this may be true in a general sense what the "older generationsists" fail to capture is that the newer generation, while lacking in some areas (such as the ones mentioned) far exceeds them in others. For example, newer generations are less critical, judgmental, rigid, closed minded, and intolerant than older generations. They are also more open minded and creative. Older generations were more culturally insensitive and prejudiced than the post-modern generation which sees everyone as equal and demands greater respect for different cultures and ethnicities. Post-moderns also crave authenticity and sincerity while the older generation was perfectly content with putting on a mask in order to impress the neighbors. So while post-modernism has negative elements it also contains numerous redemptive qualities that are more compatible with Christianity than the older generation ever had.[2]


So let's stop yapping about how terrible the younger generation is and realize that while they are worse in some areas they are also better in others. And the redemptive elements of post-moderns make them one of the most attractive cultures to reach. Post-moderns have the cultural advantage of being able to create the type of church people have dreamed of for generations. A church that values community above individuality, authenticity above reputation, acceptance above self-preservation, and relevance above dogma.

In reminder of my second point I would also like to propose that post-moderns do not fully embrace their own philosophy and are in fact searching for something better. This was clearly exemplified in the "Occupy Wall Street" (OWS) movement that began in 2011. The two aspects of post-modernism that frustrates Christian outreach attempts the most are 1) relativity: the rejection of absolute truth and, 2) the rejection of the metanarrative. How do you reach someone who denies the idea that there is an absolute truth in the universe? No matter what you say and how logical, rational, and defensible it may be at the end of the day you are dealing with someone who could care less for in their estimation, "what is true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me" - even if the propositions grossly contradict one another. And how do you reach someone who denies the existence of "a comprehensive explanation" of history, humanity or the universe (metanarrative) such as the Bible presents?

Before I answer those questions allow me to return to the OWS movement. "The main issues raised by Occupy Wall Street were social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the perceived undue influence of corporations on government—particularly from the financial services sector."[3] The movement swept across America as post-moderns took to the streets and cities with the slogan "[w]e are the 99%" which "refers to income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population."[4] So what does all this mean? First of all, it is a rejection of relativity. In order for the OWS movement to even begin there had to be a rejection of relativity. Truth must be absolute. And what was that truth? It was, in the minds of the protesters, the concept that 99% of the population was being held under the thumb of the wealthy 1%. That is an absolute claim, one that is built on data, evidence, historical research, and rational interpretations of present experience - the very aspects of truth that post-modern relativity attempts to deny. Secondly, it is an embrace of metanarrative. The narrative that inspired OWS was a grand tale of corporate greed, corrupt government, and a sense of destiny and power that led the participants to believe that they could take down the massive corporations and agencies that have led to social and economic inequality within the worlds greatest nation. Protesters endured the rage of elements, the brutality of law enforcement, and the bombardment of media for weeks on end in defense of a movement that was built on both absolute truth and metanarrative. They denied their own philosophy, not because they are unintelligent, but because they found an absolute truth and a metanarrative worth suffering for. Their current worldview and life experience was not satisfying enough to keep them quiet. They wanted something better and they were willing, unwittingly I'm sure, to deny the very foundations of their philosophy in order to secure that something better.

So what exactly am I saying? First of all, post-modern culture has many redemptive qualities that make them an attractive culture to reach. As a church we must focus on those redemptive qualities and make use of them to connect them to Jesus Christ. Secondly, scary as post-modernism may appear the vast majority of its believers would be willing to forsake it in the event that they discover an absolute truth and metanarrative that tugs at the core of their humanity. We must discover how to communicate to them the reality that Jesus is that absolute truth and that the God-story of scripture is that metanarrative. When we do we will have discovered an edge in connecting with this generation (more on this tomorrow). 


__________
[1] Google Dictionary: "enigma"
[2] These observations are based on personal experience.
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_Wall_Street
[4] ibid
Link Post: Never Good Enough (The Close of Probation and Sinless Perfectionism)
 photo credit: Toni Blay via photopin cc
The concept of sinless perfectionism is one that many Adventists are, at one time or another, exposed to. The right combination of selected Bible verses and Ellen White quotes can leave many wondering if they will ever be good enough to be saved.

I too struggled with this concept for many years and found it impossible to reconcile the gospel of Jesus Christ with the Adventist teaching of sinless perfectionism. Then one day I discovered that it wasn't an Adventist teaching at all. The more I have studied this within the context of Adventism the clearer the gospel and the all suffiency of the righteousness of Christ has become. To this, many sinless perfectionists would respond that I am just looking for an excuse to sin and still go to heaven. However, nothing could be further from the truth. I hate sinning. I long to be perfect in the love of Jesus and love as he loved and continues to love. This is my desire. Not for one moment do I want to, as Peter Gregory once quipped, take a souvenir (of sin) to heaven with me. However, with that said, I still reject the teaching of last generation sinless perfectionism. While I could share my own views on the matter, lack of time prompts me to share two wonderful articles that delineate my exact sentiments (and those of Seventh-day Adventism) on this topic. The articles were written by Seventh-day Adventist scholar and theologian Edward Heppenstall and can be found on adventistbiblicalresearch.org

1. How Perfect Is "Perfect" or Is Christian Perfection Possible?

2. Some Theological Considerations of Perfection
Ellen White's Clearest and Most Concise Explanation of the Gospel
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Courtesy of the Ellen G. White Estate, Inc
I have, in the past, shared a variety of Ellen White quotes regarding her understanding of the gospel. Because her writings are often misused by legalists and often misquoted by both supporters and critics many have come to view her as "the scary lady of Adventism" - a Victorian prude who had an unhealthy obsession with rules. However, when one reads her broadly instead of selectively it becomes rapidly clear that she was a balanced, Christ centered, average human being whose only desire was to lift Jesus up in her life and ministry. As a Seventh-day Adventist I find it heart breaking that many of my fellow believers have successfully managed to turn a fun-loving, kindhearted, Jesus lover into what many people today consider the most legalistic protestant religious thinker to have ever lived. I guess this is why I have, on older blog posts, attempted to paint an accurate picture of Ellen White by sharing her views on the gospel. I do this, not in order to defend her against her critics but in order to defend her, in many instances, from her most zealous supporters (of which I am among). I have found that it is us, not the critics, who have done the greatest harm in this respect. So as can be imagined, I am always excited to discover Ellen White statements that help form that balanced picture that many of us have so effectively maligned.

Which brings me to the reason why I am writing this blog post in the first place. I had the privilege today of listening to Seventh-day Adventist pastor Dwight Nelson do a series of presentations on Ellen White. Toward the end of one of his presentations, pastor Nelson read an unpublished letter that Ellen White wrote to her sister Elizabeth just before she died. The letter was so breath taking that I had to listen to it twice and then share it with my wife when I got home. Each time I heard it I had to hold back the tears that wanted to flow. This personal letter from Ellen to Elizabeth constitutes what I consider to be the clearest and most concise explanation of the Gospel I have come across in any of her writings. Knowing that time was short, Ellen White wrote this letter as an appeal for her sister to accept Christ into her life. It reads:
I love to speak of Jesus Lizzy, and His matchless love. My whole soul is in this work. I have not one doubt of the love of God and His care and His mercy and His ability to save to the utmost all who come to Him. Don't you believe in Jesus Lizzy? Do you not believe He is your savior? That He has evidenced His love for you in giving His own precious life that you might be saved? Oh, I pray most earnestly that the Lord Jesus shall reveal Himself to you and Reuben [her husband]. Dear sister, it's no wonderful thing that you have to do. There is one Lizzy, who died that you might live through eternal ages. Just believe that Jesus will hear your confession, receive your repentance, and He will forgive every sin and make you and Reuben children of God. Oh, I long to take you in my arms and lay you on the bosom of Jesus Christ. With Jesus as your blessed friend Lizzy, you need not fear to die, for it will be to you like closing your eyes here and opening them in heaven. Then we shall meet never more to part.*
Wow. That's all I can say as I read this amazing letter. She never brings up the Sabbath. She never brings up vegetarianism. She never mentions the Adventist church or even demands that Lizzy believe she is a prophet. She does none of it. Instead, Ellen White says, "it's no wonderful thing that you have to do..... Just believe." I don't know about you but that doesn't sound like a legalist to me. I truly, truly pray that those of us who value and embrace the prophetic ministry of Ellen White would be faithful to present her as she really was - a Christ centered, grace focused, God loving woman who ever lived to share Jesus with the world.

Further Reading:

Troubling Statements of Ellen White

The SDA Gospel Is Legalistic - Isn't It?


Ellen G. White on Legalism



* Since this letter is unpublished at the time of writing I cannot reference it. However, if you would like to hear the letter as I heard it in pastors Dwight's presentation click here and skip forward in the presentation to 36:20. If you would like to inquire as to the letter itself you can contact the Ellen White Estate here.
7 Ways to Identify a False Church


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There's a ton of churches out there. There are Lutherans, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Baptists, Seventh-day Baptists, Evangelicals, Charismatics, Catholics, Presbyterians, Mormons, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, Christian Science, Non-Denominational's, Jehovah Witnesses, and so on and so forth. The funny thing is that if you ask any of these, "Are you guys a false church?" They will all say no. Some may even begin to tell you how all the other ones are false churches and how theirs is the only right one.
So how do you identify a false church? I'll tell you one thing, you don't do it by determining how perfect the members of that church are. Trust me, if you ever found a perfect church, you can be sure you don't belong there - and neither do I. However, the Bible does give us direction when it comes to false churches. I'd like to share seven ways the Bible helps us to identify a false church and then encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance as you search for where God wants you to be.

1. "For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior." - Ephesians 5:3

The first way to identify a false church is by asking the question, "Is Jesus the head of this church?" If the answer is no, then I promise you, you have just walked into a false church. The head of a true church will always be Jesus Christ. Not some so called prophet, preacher, or teacher but Jesus Christ. Any church that does not have Christ as its head is a false church.

2. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! - Galatians 1:8

The second way to identify a false church is by asking the question, "Does this church preach the gospel of salvation the way the Bible preaches it or no?" If the answer is no, then it is a false church. So how does the Bible preach the gospel? Here is a good summary:

For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. - Ephesians 2:8-10

Notice this text teaches 3 things:

a. We are saved by grace through faith. Any church that teaches that we are saved by our own works, that we are saved apart from Gods grace, or that we are saved apart from faith is preaching a false gospel.

b. Gods grace is a gift. Any church that teaches that Gods grace must be earned by following certain rules, believing certain things, or avoiding certain things is preaching a false gospel.

c. Gods grace produces good works. Any church that teaches that Gods grace gives us a license to live in sin is preaching a false gospel. 


In summary, any church that teaches that we are saved by our own works, that Gods grace must be earned, and/or that grace gives us a license to sin is a false church.

3. We love because he first loved us. - 1 John 4:19

The third way to identify a false church is by asking the questions, "Does this church love people?" and "Does this church love God?" The answer to the second is determined by the answer to the first. If a church doesn't love people, then it doesn't love God. Any church that doesn't love people the way God does is a false church.

4. If you love me, keep my commands.... Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.... Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. - John 14:15, 21, 23-24

The fourth way to identify a false church is by asking the question, "Does this church obey Gods commands?" Gods commands are the 10 commandments recorded in Exodus 20. Any church that teaches that Gods commands are no longer valid, that they don't need to be kept, or that its OK to break them (licence to sin) is a false church.

5. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. - 2 Timothy 3:16

The fifth way to identify a false church is by asking the question, "Does this church believe in the Bible?" Any church that doesn't believe in the Bible, has its own bible unique only to their denomination, adds to or takes away from the bible, or rejects portions of the bible is a false church. The Bible, from cover to cover, is Gods word. Any church that teaches otherwise, or that attempts to say that the Bible is incomplete, or subject to another mans (or woman's) "inspired interpretation" is a false church. The Bible should be our only rule of faith and practice. As I once heard a preacher say, "If its in the word it deserves to be heard." To which I add, "If its not in the word it does not deserve to be heard."

6. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” - John 13:35

The sixth way to identify a false church is by asking the question, "Do the people in this church love one another?" Any church that is judgmental, cold, formal, hypocritical, and hostile toward itself and others is a false church. Even if this church has all of the right teachings and its theology is 100% correct it is still a false church without love. Jesus never said people would know us by our faithfulness in keeping the 10 commandments, doctrinal purity, musical selection, or dress code but by our love for one another.

7. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” - Matthew 28:18-20.

The seventh and final way to identify a false church is to ask the questions, "Is this church active and dedicated to preaching the gospel to all the world?" Any church that feels that salvation only belongs to them and that no one else has hope, or that is simply to lazy or uninterested in sharing the gospel is a false church. If there is one command in the Bible that is non-debatable it is the command to tell the whole world about Jesus. Jesus, our God and Savior, commissioned us with the task of sharing the gospel in a joint operation with Him. Any church that doesn't share the gospel is a loveless, missionless stagnant church that will soon rot away. It is a false church.

In conclusion, any church that does not have Christ at the head, does not preach the true gospel, does not love God and man, does not keep Gods commandments, does not base all of its teaching on the Bible alone, does not love its members, and/or does not share the gospel is a false church. However, if a church has Christ as its head, preaches the true gospel, loves God and man, keeps Gods commandments, and bases all its teachings on the Bible alone you can be assured it is a true church. So whatever church you go to or plan to go to, explore each of these steps with your Bible to determine whether or not it is a false Church.[1] God bless!

PS. I'm certain that there are many more texts in the bible that can help out in the search, so if anyone has anything to add, then feel free to do so in the comment line!

[1] Always remember that determining whether a church is false does not always work if you simply apply these 7 tests to a congregation. For example, the Westboro Baptist church would fail these tests and thus come under the "false church" category. However, this doesn't mean that the Baptist church as a whole is a false church. Once you have determined if a specific congregation is a false church be sure to see if that congregation is actually following what its denomination officially teaches before declaring that denomination false.

Also, pay attention to the Spirits leading. If you find a denomination to be true but its local church to be false it may be that God wants you in that church to inspire change. We can always run away when we find a church that is not "perfect" but the truth is there is no perfect church. Maybe God has us there for a reason - to help it to change. So don't be dogmatic about this, be prayerful. However, if the denomination itself is false trying to reform it will prove impossible. In that case I suggest you move on.
Pagan Christianity? A Book Review
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The root of nearly every church practice is pagan and not New Testament Christianity. Convincing the reader that this statement is true is the aim of Pagan Christianity? And I have to say, the authors Frank Viola and George Barna have done an exceptional job at this. The scope of the book is therefore very focused. Going back to the New Testament and working their way through the history of Christianity up to the modern era Viola and Barna consistently paint a picture of a religion that has adapted the pagan and secular culture around it instead of replacing it. The claims of Viola and Barna are very significant and I believe if followed (though not fully as I will later show) will result in a revival among Biblical Christians.


The thesis of Pagan Christianity? is that many of the practices of the institutional church are not rooted in scripture but in paganism and secular culture. Therefore, the only true and Biblical church is what the authors refer to as the "organic church" which is a home church movement. The book’s bias is clear from its title alone. Almost everything we do in church is contrary to God’s design because it comes from paganism and not scripture and is therefore harmful to the church and its mission. The author’s main contentions are with any church practice that is not clearly rooted in the New Testament. This includes the church building, the order of worship, the sermon, dressing up for church and others.

With relation to the church Viola states that, “It can be rightly said that Christianity was the first non-temple-based religion ever to emerge” (11). Again he says, “Strikingly nowhere in the New Testament do we find the terms church (ekklesia), temple, or house of God used to refer to a building” (11). According to Viola, sacred temples were a concept that belonged to paganism and Judaism. The sacred temple of Judaism and its services were done away with at the cross. Because of this, the New Testament Christians met in homes. However, over time Christians began to pray for the dead martyrs, then to them. Their grave yards became viewed as holy places on which shrines were built and eventually buildings were built over the grave sites (during the time of Constantine) and considered holy as well. All of this has origins in paganism and not Christianity. When Constantine came on the scene he built cathedrals for the Christians and even named the cathedrals after certain saints. A practice which was also pagan. The church building then came to be viewed as a sacred place. Having no biblical precedent to defend this, the proponents of the church building began pointing to the Old Testament temple as a defense for their sacred church buildings, but this was based on faulty exegesis. Viola rightly argues that the New Testament church was the people not the building. He traces the concept of a sacred building in Christianity to paganism, Clement of Alexandria (the first recorded to use ekklesia in reference to a meeting place) and Constantine whom was the first to, “erect special buildings for worship” (12). For Viola, church is people not buildings. The church is something you are a part of not an edifice you go to. I agree with Viola in the sense that the incredible amount of money spent in up keeping a building most people only use once or twice a week could be better spent in reaching the lost.

As for the order of worship, Viola writes that it is “mechanical and predictable” (48). I couldn’t agree more. Viola traces the order of worship to the Catholic Mass. Where does the Catholic Mass come from? Viola writes: “[T]he mass did not originate in with the New Testament; it grew out of ancient Judaism and paganism. According to Will Durant, the Catholic Mass was ‘based partly on the Judaic Temple service, partly on Geek mystery rituals of purification, vicarious sacrifice, and participation’” (51). Even after the protestant reformation he shows that apart from some minor differences, “Luther kept the same order of worship as found in the Catholic Mass” (55). Violas biggest contention with the church building and the liturgy is that it transforms the congregants from active members within the body of Christ to “passive spectators” (55). According to Viola the worship service should be an event in which all members participate. The leader of the meeting ought to be Jesus Christ himself and not some priest or clergyman. This all included style of worship is the New Testament model and according to Viola, “Gods people have never broken free from the liturgical constraints they inherited from Roman Catholicism” (73).

Though Viola contends with countless other issues the last one I will look at is his view on dressing up to go to church. This issue, as opposed to the afore mentioned ones, does not in fact have pagan roots but cultural ones which Viola argues are contrary to the New Covenant. According to Viola, “[t]he practice of dressing up for church is a relatively recent phenomenon” (146). Although dressing decently is not a new thing, dressing up is. Viola argues that the early Christians did not dress up for Church because they didn’t have clothes to dress up with. Most people in the early days of Christianity only had work clothes and decent clothes. They would wear their decent clothes for their assemblies. However, the idea of dressing up for anything was a privilege that only the wealthy had. When “fine clothes became more affordable to the common people” (146) they began to dress up as the rich to “demonstrate their newly improved status” (147). Church became a place where the common people now dressed up in imitation of the rich who would dress up for their special occasions. However, the idea of dressing up for church was controversial when it first began. Viola states that “[s]ome Christian groups in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries resisted this cultural trend” (147). However, it soon became the norm to the point that today not dressing up for church is considered irreverent even though it has no biblical precedent. Viola argues: “[T]o say that the Lord expects His people to dress in fine clothing when the church gathers is to add to the scriptures and speak where God has not spoken. Such a practice is human tradition at its best” (150).

Pagan Christianity? has really changed the way I look at church and ministry. However, my chief objections with Viola are that he seems to refer to pagan origin as enough reason to expel a practice from Christian life. If this is so then we should all stop using the names of the weekdays (except for Sabbath), get rid of our wedding bands, Hymns, stop shaking people’s hands, and forbid the celebration of Christmas and Easter (all of these have pagan origin). However, such a position is extremism at its best. Not everything of pagan origin is an abomination to God. A lot of it is good and useful because pagans are people first and pagans second. Therefore, while I agree with much of what Viola says I don’t go as far as he does. For example, I agree with his arguments against the church building but I see it more as an opportunity to reform how we use the building instead of getting rid of it. Likewise, the order of service is horrendous. I can’t stand it. But reformation rather than elimination is the wisest route in my opinion. As far as dressing up for church, I don’t believe it should be mandated because God never mandated it. However, to condemn the practice as if inherently evil is going too far. It should neither be mandated nor forbidden.

Pagan Christianity? has really changed a lot of my conceptions. I hope to plant a church someday and after reading this book I have decided I will do a lot of things differently. For example, I will not treat the church as though it is inherently holy like the Old Testament sanctuary because it isn’t. Though I won’t treat it like a laundry room, I will refrain from treating the meeting hall (incorrectly referred to as the sanctuary) as the Catholics treat their cathedrals. Likewise, I will seek to arrange the meeting place and order of service to encourage full participation from the congregants instead of performing a “clergy show” as churches typically do every weekend. I will also reject a mandate for dress. While dressing decently should be expected in church it is also expected in many other places, but dressing up is in my opinion a yoke we were never meant to carry. Another concept that Pagan Christianity? has influenced me in is in the role of the sermon. While this is not a new concept to me, Viola helped to solidify a growing conviction I have had about sermonizing week after week. While I fully agree with the sermon I don’t like the idea of sermonizing. Ellen White herself said that the church should not expect to hear a sermon every weekend. In my estimation, this practice weakens the spiritual life of the church especially when it is the same person preaching Sabbath after Sabbath. In addition Pagan Christianity? shows how our modern, clergy officiated, gloomy communion service is in no way how the early Christians celebrated communion. “For the early Christians, the Lord’s Supper was a festive communal meal. The mood was one of celebration” (192). Viola argues how this, and many other aspects of our communion service, was handed down to us from Catholicism and do not come from the New Testament.

Violas objective in writing this book is to exhort Christians to return to the New Testament model of Church. According to Viola, this is a home based movement that has Christ at the head and not clergy, encourages full participation, and is free from all of the pagan and cultural influences that have crept into the church over the last 2,000 years. To accomplish this objective Viola analyzes nearly everything we do in church including what I have just mentioned plus the origin of the pew, steeple, pulpit, pastor, ordination, choir, worship team and much more. For Viola each of these practices represents a departure from pure New Testament Christianity and damages Gods mission and purpose for the church.

While Pagan Christianity? is a great book I think its weakness is that it often goes too far in what it condemns. While a reformation is desperately needed scripture does not mandate how church should be run. Therefore, principle not blueprint (for which there is none), should be our guide. The New Testament informs us of how the early church operated and grew; it does not mandate that we do everything exactly as they did it. While engaging in anything that would go contrary to biblical principles should be forbidden, all other issues should be considered from a soul winning perspective. In addition, I find it interesting that for a book that traces Church practices to their origin, Viola is virtually silent on how Christians came to celebrate Sunday as the Sabbath. If there is any church practice that is clearly pagan in its origin and evolution it is this one. However, apart from a brief mention of it, Viola says nothing about it. [1] I believe that God is much more concerned that we keep His commandments than that we get rid of pews and steeples.




[1] “In AD 321, Constantine decreed that Sunday would be a day of rest – a legal holiday. It appears that Constantine’s intention in doing this was to honor the god Mithras, the Unconquered Sun” (19).
Do You Qualify for Salvation?
photo credit: abcdz2000 via photopin cc

There is a true story told of an Indian missionary. The young man was in India during a great festival in which all of the Hindus travel to the river Ganges to wash themselves for the forgiveness of sins. Thousands of Hindus traveled for miles to wash themselves in this river. The story goes that this missionary was crossing a bridge over the river when he saw a woman weeping uncontrollably. He approached her to see what was wrong.

She told him that her husband was unable to work. They had no money to provide for the family. She told him that her sins were so many that no one knew about. She was burdened with guilt and shame. She needed forgiveness and blessings. In order to receive the blessing and forgiveness of the goddess Ganges, she said, “I have given her the most valuable offering I could give her. My six month old baby boy. I just threw him into the river.” The missionary proceeded to explain the gospel to her. To tell her that she didn’t have to kill her son. God had sent his son in order to save mankind. When he was done the woman looked at him. “Why didn’t you come a half hour sooner?” She asked. “I didn’t have to kill my son.” And with that she took of running and weeping. She’s not the only one you know. There are thousands. Millions are crying out “why?” Longing and searching for an answer to the void in their heart. Looking for forgiveness and salvation. Their religion tells them that salvation can only be gained by working hard to earn Gods favor. Their religion tells them that they have to climb, struggle, work, sweat, bleed, and suffer in order to enter the Kingdom. But the Bible says something else. In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” The Bible teaches that it’s not what we do that saves us, but what God has done. It’s not about what we do; it’s about what He did.

The book of Ephesians which I just quoted reveals Gods mysterious purpose for what we call “church.” Paul, the author of the book, paints a picture of a secret weapon that God had planned from the beginning of time in order to defeat evil. That secret weapon in the church. Why church? I mean. Isn’t church boring? Irrelevant? Hasn’t the church caused more evil than good in history? How could this be Gods secret weapon to defeat evil? That answer is found in Ephesians 1:22-23. Here Paul says, “And God placed all things under his [Jesus] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” According to this verse, Christ is the head of the church which is his body. However, there is something powerful here. The Greek word for church is “ekklesia” which means congregation or assembly. According to the Bible “church” is not a building, it’s a community of people. So Gods secret weapon to defeat evil is people. But what kind of people? Ephesians 2:1-2 answers that question. It says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Did you catch it? Gods secret weapon from the beginning of time was people. But not good people. Bad people! People who were rebellious, wicked, and selfish. People who were slaves to sin. Gods mystery of the church is that He was going to get these “evil people” and use them to defeat evil. But how? In order for God to do this He would have to get these people to be on His side. He would have to rescue them from the power of sin. But how?


You know, there are three popular versions of salvation. The most common is that you are saved by works. This means you have to be good and if you are good enough you are allowed into heaven. The second is that you are saved as a free gift apart from works. This means that you don’t have to do anything in order to be saved. You just have to receive the gift. The third is that you are saved by grace, but in order to stay saved you have to work. For many years I fell into the third version of salvation. However, this version is simply a baptized version of salvation by works. Even though I was saved by grace I always felt I hadn’t done enough to stay saved and that I had to do more. I had to be a vegetarian or else I would lose my salvation. I had to keep the Sabbath perfectly and be nice to people and do everything right or else I would lose the free gift of salvation. And I was miserable. But according to Paul, it’s the second version that’s the right one. We are saved by grace through faith. Period. Look at it here in Ephesians. It says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Guys, it’s not about what we do; it’s about what He did. We can’t do anything to be saved. We can’t do anything to stay saved. It’s all a gift of God. And the crazy thing is that God gives this gift to evil people, not to good people. Grace is for the sinner not the saint. Look at verse five. It says, “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” It is when we were dead in sin that Jesus offered us salvation. Works cannot save us. It has to be a gift. This is the only way. You can’t be vegetarian enough, or know enough Bible verses, or behave well enough for God to accept you. The gift of salvation is not offered to you when you are good. It’s offered to you when you are evil. It’s not about what you do; it’s about what He did. The church is a community of people who were slaves to sin and have been rescued from that slavery. It is not a building. It is not a club. It is not a group of perfect people. It is a community of people who were once dead in sin and they received the free gift of salvation and are now alive in Christ. They did not receive the gift because they were good. They received it because they were evil. Why? “So that no one can boast.” It’s not about what we do; it’s about what He did.


So what about works? When I was a soldier I met a guy named Kennel. He smoked, drank, slept with different women all the time and got kicked out for doing drugs. However, according to Kennel he was saved because four years before he had prayed a prayer at a youth rally. Is this what it means to be saved? If works have nothing to do with our salvation then why be good? Look at verse 10 with me. Paul says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The Greek word for workmanship is “poiema” which literally means, “a work.” We are Gods work. When you give your life to Jesus He begins to do a work within you. He begins to change you and transform you. I like to think of it this way. When Paul used the word “ poiema” it simply meant a work. But over time it became the root of our English word poem. A poet is someone who makes a poem. However, the poet works on the poem until it is exactly what He wants it to be. This is what God does with us. He works in us until He makes us what He wants us to be. He doesn’t leave us broken like He found us. He works in us and through us and for us and turns us into a beautiful poem. Good works are the evidence that God is at work within us. But even those good works are His works, never our own. It’s not about what we do; it’s about what He did.


I knew a guy named Patrick. The first year that I knew him he tried to commit suicide two times. Another friend of mine and I tried to help him. You see, Patrick’s problem was that he was raised to believe that he had to pay penance for all of his sins and he always felt he hadn’t done enough. But for some reason no matter how much we talked about grace it just didn’t sink in for him. One day, after he had tried to commit suicide again, he was in the mental hospital and a chaplain went to see him. He explained the gospel to him. Paul accepted it. He got down on his knees and asked God to forgive him for his sins. At that moment he opened his eyes and the chaplain looked at him. “That’s it?” he asked. “That’s all you have to say?” Patrick said, “yes that it.” All of a sudden, and I’m not kidding, the chaplain grabbed Patrick by the shirt and started to punch him! He hit his chest and shook him back and forth and screamed “why don’t you just get it! Saved by grace! You don’t have to do anything to be saved! Jesus paid the price.” A wall fell. It was an invisible wall. It broke down like the walls of Jericho. And Patrick saw for the first time. He wept like he had never wept before. He laid all his burdens at the cross. And for the first time in his life, he was free. A few days later, I stood on the shore of a beach in Hawaii and watched as Patrick was baptized in the ocean. Patrick finally understood that salvation isn’t about what you do. It’s not about how good you are. Salvation is about receiving the gift of grace. It’s free. It’s not about what we do; it’s about what He did. Every other religion in the world tells you what to do. Christianity tells you what was done. It’s not about what we do; it’s about what He did. Period.