Category Archives: Theology

Mike Bickle: “Manifestations of the Spirit are at least 80% false.”

That’s all, folks. All y’all Pentecostals can come home to a good, confessional Lutheran church now. Mike Bickle (the founder of IHOPKC) said that at least 80% of the “manifestations of the Spirit” which take place in the global Pentecostal church  (“thousands of manifestation meetings worldwide”) are faked. (It’s in the first 20 seconds, but the whole video is important.)

Ah, yes, remember how the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians and told them that a little disorder in their church was okay, how they could enjoy the nonsense without believing it, and how 80% of their speaking in tongues could be babble? That’s definitely what he wrote, right?

This is key, though. The modern Pentecostal movement is based on signs and wonders. But Mike Bickle said that 80% of those are fake. What was it Jesus said about a house built on sand?

Suppose you were sick and you went to go see a doctor. If he introduced himself and said “Now, I only get the diagnosis right about 20% of the time,” would you stay and try your luck or would you get out of Dodge?

That’s the big question, then: If a major leader of your movement is openly admitting your movement is based on falsehoods, why stay in the movement? As I said before, so I say again: It’s time to leave Pentecostalism and come home. Lutheranism is waiting for you.

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“Qui Creavit Coelum.”

This is a translation I have produced of an Advent hymn called “Qui Creavit Coelum.” As I understand it, the earliest manuscript in which we find it is from around 1425 A.D.; the hymn is also known as “The Song of the Nuns of Chester.” The original Latin text can be found here. I added some notes at the bottom. Nothing here is particularly scholarly; it’s simply a little devotional exercise that I wanted to share.

Happy Advent, friends.

The King who is ruling the ages,
He who created Heaven,
is being born in a stable.[1]

Joseph brings some rushes;
Mother wraps up the Child,
and places him in the manger.[2]

There among the animals
they place the Joy of the World.
He is fragrant beyond all.[3]

The Mother of the Lord suckles
and embraces the Little One;
she worships the Lord.[4]

Ask, Mother of the Lord,
that He give us Joy
in everlasting glory[5]

 


 

[1] I’ve taken the last line of this stanza first, for two reasons: (a) grammatically, “rex” as the subject fits naturally when rendered first in English, which makes good sense of the two relative clauses, each introduced by “qui;” and (b) by first emphasizing the transcendent nature of this King who is ruling time (present tense) and created matter (perfect tense) , the humility of His lowly birthplace is magnified in English. That this tiny Babe is ruling the centuries is a great mystery.
[2] “Paniculum” here is not a common word and means something like a tuft of reeds used for thatching a roof. I like the poetic image of Jesus being wrapped in rushes. It reminds me of Moses’s basket being placed in the rushes; so here, a rush-wrapped Baby Jesus is “ponit in praesepio.” The whole of Scripture – indeed, the whole of the world – is the story of Jesus Christ coming to save sinners like you and me.
[3] I like fragrant as a gloss for “dulcis” here: the Lamb of God is laid down next to animals He created, incarnate to do what they never could. He is here to take away the sins of the world. Thus He is “dulcis super omnia;” as an offering to God, He is “fragrant beyond all.”
[4] Mary worships God through her vocation as mother. What is done in faith, even the changing of diapers, is service to God. I think this stanza does a beautiful job of honoring the vocation of Motherhood. It also continues to emphasize the mystery of the Incarnation: That God could be breast-fed! How highly favored is Mary, the Mother of God?
[5] I do not believe in prayers to the saints. I have here translated the text as it is, not as I think it ought to be. I think this language could be understood apart from praying to the saints, but considering that this text comes to us from the nunnery of St. Mary, in 1425, I assume the author was indeed intending this as a prayer to Mary. Instead, I believe that scripture teaches that “rogat nobis mater domini” – that is, “The Mother of God is praying for us.” But that is another discussion, which I do not wish to participate in here.

I hope this was in some way a blessing to you this Advent.

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Filed under Christology, Devotional, Personal

Debate recap: Introduction.

On July 24th I had the pleasure of joining Jeremy Goff, a popular LDS lifestyle blogger, in a moderated public discussion of the question “Who is God?” Dr. Wallace Marshall moderated for us, which was a real treat, as his past debates have always been very interesting. We had a decent turn out, and I managed to get some video of the event, although technical difficulties prevented us from capturing the whole thing.

While I’ll be taking up a number of topics from the debate, I wanted to take this first post to reflect on how the debate went overall. Here we go.

We followed a pretty standard format with opening statements, rebuttals, cross-examination, closing statements, and then audience questions. I’ve uploaded a copy of my opening statement here if you want to read it. We had flipped a coin earlier in the week and God willed that I go first, so I kicked things off and we went from there.

I have to say, over all, I was satisfied with how things went. I certainly had a good time, and I think Jeremy did as well. We got some good questions from the audience at the end which showed they had been paying attention, and I had some interesting conversations with people after the event.

I wish Jeremy had engaged more with my opening statement, but he did come at it from essentially the angle I was expecting. My argument was, roughly, that if you believe Jesus is raised from the dead you should also trust the Scriptures, and that the Scriptures teach the doctrine of the Trinity. He didn’t engage with my exegesis of John 1 at all, nor did he take up Isaiah 43:10. Instead he kept asserting that God is our literal Father and that the Bible had been tampered with by men.

For my own part, my first response should have spent less time pointing out how Dan Brown-esque Jeremy’s understanding of church history was and more time demonstrating why his points didn’t touch my initial argument. My feet got out from under me and I spent way too long talking about what Gnosticism does and doesn’t teach. I’ve got to be more concise in further engagements, and really tether myself to the topic.

The cross-ex was a lot of fun. Jeremy failed to produce sources for any of his claims there, which was unfortunate because that left him with just assertions. This really showed a lack of authority, from my perspective. Anyone can say “such and such happened,” but as the late Hitch was wont to say, “that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Since Jeremy provided no evidences for his claims, his earlier plausible sounding story really fell apart. I wish I’d pinned him down more on the nature of God, though, but he kept side-stepping questions.

All in all, it was quite interesting to hear “straight from the horses mouth” what a lay-LDS member believes about church history, philosophy, the Bible, and the rest. I had a really good time, and I think that for two first-time debaters the event went very well. I’d love to go at it again sometime!

Like I said, a number of interesting points came up during the debate. I’ll be exploring them over the next few weeks, hopefully with video clips from the debate to provide some context. I hope you keep reading! If you want updates you can get them via email/Wordpress (above right) or via my Facebook page.

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If it’s Saturday, it must be Arians [Trinity Misconceptions]

This is a post in a series about the Trinity. The introduction is here, and part two is here.

It’s a Saturday morning. Two well dressed guests knock on your door. They introduce themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and ask if they can show you what the Bible really teaches. They deny that Christ is the second person of a Trinity, and say instead that He is the first of God’s creation, who created everything else.

Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a very recent development, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes got it right: There is nothing new under the sun. The teachings of the Witnesses about Jesus are an ancient heresy known as Arianism.

The History

Early in the history of the Christian Church, a young man named Arius was studying in Alexandria. From the work of earlier teachers (perhaps Paul of Samosata) he concluded that the Son was created; that is, there was a time when the Son, the Logos in John, did not exist. The teaching of Arius was very popular among the Alexandrian schools, and his theology spread fast.

Proponents of orthodoxy initially won out, led by Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria. The Emperor Constantine, a catechumen in the church at the time, called a council at Nicaea in 324 A.D. and all but two of the bishops there agreed that the Scriptures taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit are “consubstantial” (i.e. they share the same substance, or essence, or being). They composed the Nicene Creed, to put into a succinct statement of faith what the Scriptures teach.

Many have criticized the political power with which Constantine upheld orthodoxy. Often there are myths such as “Constantine determined the canon of Scripture at Nicaea,” or other such silliness. Those improper understandings of the council aside, Constantine did use his power inappropriately (in my estimation) when he ordered the destruction of Arian documents and the death penalty for those who did not volunteer Arian documents in their possession.

Ironically, Constantine later exiled Athanasius, the hero of orthodoxy, in an attempt at conciliating Arian sympathizers. At any rate, when Constantine’s son, Constantius II, assumed power, he used it to spread Arian doctrine throughout the Roman Empire by force. The point being, political force was used inappropriately on both sides of this issue. What we must look at, then, is the doctrines themselves.

The Theology

For a good starting point in discussion with any Jehovah’s Witnesses you may meet, I don’t suggest John 1:1. In their New World Translation of Scripture, they twist this verse to read “and the Word was a god.” Unless you speak Greek fluently, and are able to teach them Greek fluently, it won’t be much use to tell them that their translation is wrong. They simply won’t believe you.

Rather, I’d suggest jumping over to John 1:3. Even in the NWT it reads “[a]ll things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.” When I read this with them, I’ll change the “all” to “some” and “not even one thing” to “almost nothing.” So I will (mis)read “some things came into existence through him, and apart from him almost nothing came into existence.”

When I misread it, they will usually correct me. When the answer comes from their own mind, instead of being supplied by someone with whom they disagree, it is much more effective at communicating the point.

That point is that, according to the grammar of John 1:3, Jesus cannot have come into existence. Why? Because all things that came into existence came through him. Can a man be his own father? His own cause of being (in other words, his own efficient cause)? Of course not. So also, if not even one thing came into existence apart from the Word (that’s Jesus, remember? see Jn. 1:14) then Jesus can’t have come into existence, because then at least one thing came into existence apart from Jesus.

If you’re more of a visual learner, you’ll appreciate this very helpful blog post by Greg Koukl. It is essentially no different to what I outlined here, but he has a visual aid that make the point very clear.

Like I mentioned before, I’ll only be posting on Thursdays for a while during my summer intensive at school. I hope to get back to a regular Monday post soon, but I may edit the schedule further to allow for all of my obligations. God’s blessings on your week!

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Trinity Misconception: Modalism.

Last week I wrote up a brief introduction to the doctrine of the Trinity. Over the next several Thursdays I’ll tackle some of the different misconceptions and myths about the Trinity. Up first: Modalism.

One of the ways that people talk (incorrectly) about God is to say that just as one man can be a father, a son, and a husband, for instance, God also reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. The result of this analogy is Modalism: The belief that there is one God who reveals Himself in three different modes. It is as if God plays three different roles; in Modalism, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all the same person.

Modalism is also known as Sabellianism, as Sabellius espoused the doctrine in the third century. In fact, it found its origin in earlier teachers, such as Praxeas [see especially Tertullian, Adversus Praxeas, ch. 1]; Sabellius simply popularized it.

In contrast to Arianism, which also taught that there was only one God but denied that Jesus was divine, Modalism does teach that Jesus Christ is fully divine. What Modalism denies is that there are distinct divine Persons. Modalism is also sometimes referred to as Patripassianism (the belief that the Father was crucified in the Son) because Modalists deny that the Father and Son are co-existent persons; thus they teach that the Father is incarnate in the mode of the Son and suffers on the Cross.

The closest modern expression of modalism is found in the Oneness Pentecostal movement. There are some significant differences, but they both deny the persons of the Trinity.

The Athanasian Creed (the best explanation of the Trinity, bar none) shows us the two errors one may fall into regarding the Trinity: “[W]e worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.” All Trinitarian heresies have their root in one of these two errors. In the case of Modalism, the Persons are confounded – they are not seen as distinct from each other.

To refute Modalism, all that must be demonstrated from Apostolic teaching is that the three Persons of the Trinity are co-existent; that is, that the Father, Son, and Spirit exist side by side at the same time. This is done simply: At the Baptism of Jesus, the Father speaks from heaven with approval of the Son, who is standing in the water, and the Spirit descends in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:13ff; Luke 3:21-22). Thus all three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, are present (i.e. they exist) at the same time. The alternative, if Modalist doctrine is upheld, is that Christ was throwing His voice to speak from heaven!

You may not run into Modalism tomorrow (unless you’re reading the Book of Mormon), but it certainly functions as a good example of bad teaching. It’s still useful to us because it helps us to dig into Scripture and see what God reveals about Himself.

Next week I tackle Arianism. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do! Also, check out the blog on Facebook or follow me on Twitter for updates. 

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Why would Mormons want to be Christians too?

In every conversation I’ve had with a Mormon, whether it be a lay member or a Missionary, they have always told me “Yeah, we’re Christians too.” That statement has always confused me. Here’s why.

The LDS church stands or falls on one idea: There was a Great Apostasy and the Church needed to be restored on the earth. This is first lesson which the Missionaries will teach you if you ever have them over. It’s called “The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” and it teaches the Latter-Day Saint view of church history.

According to the official account of the First Vision, Joseph went into what is now known as the Sacred Grove to pray. There, God the Father and Jesus appeared to him, and he asked them which of the sects of Christianity he ought to join. In Joseph Smith-History 1:19 (which is part of the Pearl of Great Price, and therefore official doctrine) he says:

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

So according to God, all of the creeds (as in the Apostles, Athanasian, and Nicene Creeds otherwise known as Christian orthodoxy) are an abomination, and all those who profess those creeds (Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, and even most Baptists) are corrupt. And yet, when I, as a corrupt professor of an abomination, say “I’m a Christian,” Mormons say to me “We are Christians too.”

I think you can see now why I’ve been stressing the “too.” It wouldn’t bother me if Mormons said to me “Well, we think we’re Christians, and you’re not.” It wouldn’t bother me if Mormons said just “Well, we’re Christians.” If they believe that they are the true church that Jesus founded then it would make sense that they think they are the true Christians. But when they say that they are Christians too, as if we somehow share faith, despite the words of their prophet, it is confusing to me and strikes me as, perhaps, dishonest.

If you’re a Latter-Day Saint, perhaps you can help me understand. Why would any Mormon tell me that they’re a Christian too, when 1 Nephi 14:10 teaches:

Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.

Given what Joseph Smith said about traditional Christianity, it cannot be the case that when a Mormon says “we’re Christians too” they mean that both traditional Christians and the LDS belong to the church of the Lamb of God. That would fly in the face of what God told Joseph Smith. But I can’t believe that they would believe the only alternative: That the Latter-Day Saints belong to the church of the devil! They must not mean that we are both Christians, because there’s no way, given Joseph’s revelation from God, that this can be true.

One response I anticipate is what Missionaries have told me from time to time: I, as a traditional Christian, have part of the truth. I just need the Full Gospel restored. The problem with this, as I see it, is that just because someone knows some true things, that doesn’t make them a Christian.  A Sikh believes many true things about the world, but they are not Christians because they don’t believe in the Christian God. So it seems that a traditional Christian, who does not believe in Heavenly Father (at least not in the Mormon sense) cannot, from a Mormon point of view, be called a true Christian despite the fact that they believe many true things.

Would any Latter-Day Saint like to clarify things for me?

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Free-for-all Friday: July 1st.

This is my first free-for-all Friday. It’s a collection of content from around the internet that I found uplifting, encouraging, devotional, thought-provoking, or just plain funny. Let me know what you think, and feel free to share your own favorites in the comments below!

I don’t think enough Christians have seen this video by Big Think with Penn Jillette. I’ve linked to the section I find the most poignant but his whole monologue in that video is worth watching (either herehere or below).

 

Even though we’d disagree about a lot, Al Mohler nails it in this episode of The Briefing.

Not theology related (although good wine is a gift from God, for sure!) but here‘s a cool little documentary on wine making.

Hans Fiene wrote a great piece over at The Federalist about how Jon Stewart is terrible. Whether you agree or not, Pr. Fiene applied his usual thoughtful, sarcastic tone that makes him such a joy to read.

Last is the following image from Orthodox Lutheran, one of my favorite meme pages on Facebook.

13537619_1079486162139791_4328944062791831044_n

It’s okay to laugh. It’s funny.

If you have something you would like to be considered for next month Free-For-All Friday, comment below. Want to stay in touch? Great! Like the blog on Facebook, follow the blog on WordPress, and subscribe via email. 

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The Holy Trinity: A brief introduction.

I was young when The Shack came out. I got it from the library, and I honestly didn’t get all that much out of it. But I do remember thinking how weird it was that God the Father was portrayed as a woman.

Now that I’m older, and more theologically inclined, I see more of the problems with The Shack‘s theology in a clearer light. Since the movie is coming out in less than a year, I thought it might be wise to take a look at the doctrine of the Trinity.

Before we go much further, click here and take the Trinity quiz that Tim Challies offers. How’d you do? 

The word Trinity is not found in your bible. It is an ecclesiastical, or church, word used to describe God’s revealed nature. A simple definition of the Trinity might look something like this: There is only one God, who exists as three distinct and co-eternal persons. The best definition of the Trinity is found in the Athanasian Creed.

I’m sure you’ve heard an analogy for the Trinity before. Throw it out, because it’s probably useless. I’ll let Donall and Conall explain:

Yes, I know: The rest of the post is going to be boring after that.

So where in the bible do we find this Trinitarian doctrine? I submit that the bible teaches that (1) there is only one God, (2) the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are distinct persons, and (3) the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are each fully God. If all three of these premises are true, then the Trinitarian concept of God is also true.

Premise 1: There is only one God.

This is, ostensibly, the easiest premise to prove from scripture. We know from a host of verses that God is the only God (Deut. 6:4; 4:35; 32:39; Is. 43:10; 44:6; 45:5; 45:18; 46:5-9, just to name a few). Two of my favorites are Isaiah 44:8 and Psalm 18:31. Both put polytheism to rest so succinctly.

Isaiah 44:8 says “Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any other Rock? I know of none.” In Isaiah 43-49, God goes on an epic rant against those false gods and false saviors of other nations. He repeatedly makes the point that there are no other gods and no other saviors. And here He hammers it home: “I know of none!”

Psalm 18:31-32 says “For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God, the God who girds me with strength and makes my way blameless?” Again, the only acceptable answer to this rhetorical question is “No one!” God alone is God.

Premise 2: The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are distinct persons.

This premise is also easy to demonstrate from the Scriptures. In Matthew 3, at Jesus’ baptism, we see all three separate and distinct persons of the Trinity simultaneously. “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”” (vs. 16-17). This poses a serious challenge to modalists (people who believe that God is not three co-eternal persons, but one person playing the different roles of Father, Son, and Spirit at different times): Was Jesus just throwing His voice to speak from Heaven as the Father?

Another passage, which plays nicely in our next premise as well, is John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  So as far back as you can go, the Word – whom John identifies as Jesus (Jn. 1:14) – was already there as a distinct person from God (the Father). This “face-to-face” relationship can only take place between distinct persons – not one person playing two different parts.

Premise 3: The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are each fully God.

This premise may be demonstrated in two different ways. The first way is that each of the Persons of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit – are certainly called God in Scripture. The second is that each of them is attributed with titles and qualities reserved only for God in Scripture.

As John 1:1 showed that the two persons, Father and Son, are unique, so also it demonstrates that “the Word was God.” Another appropriate translation of that verse is “what God was, the Word was.” Everything that God is by nature, the Word is also by nature.  Distinct persons, but one substance – exactly as the Athanasian Creed puts it.

The Spirit, also, is called God. In Acts 5:3-4 Peter says

“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

Notice in the first sentence, Peter says that they lied to the Holy Spirit; in the last line Peter says they’ve lied to God. So the title of God is applied to the Holy Spirit.

The attributes of God are applied to each of the Persons of the Trinity equally as well. I won’t reinvent the wheel here: Check out this chart of scripture verses.

trinity-chart

Conclusion: The Trinity must be true.

Since the three premises are supported by even this cursory examination of the scriptures, we must conclude that the Trinity is true. It is mysterious, and beyond our understanding by reason alone, true, but God has revealed Himself in this manner. It is our privilege to know and worship the true and Triune God.

 

Got questions about the Trinity? Comment below! Or share your favorite bad analogy (or a good one, if you can find it!), myth, misunderstanding, or other Trinitarian related topics. If you want to hear more then subscribe via email or WordPress, and like the blog on Facebook. See you next week for Trinity Myths and Misunderstandings!

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God has fixed this.

My earlier post on this matter left one crucial question unanswered: In the face of tragedy, what comfort does Christianity offer? The answer is simple: God has fixed this.

We do not know how. It certainly doesn’t look like God has fixed this. But we know that He has fixed this. We know this because He went to the cross for us.

When Jesus hung on the cross, it didn’t look like God was fixing anything. In fact, the one who claimed to be God, who made Himself equal with God, was the one suffocating to a very public and very humiliating death. We could, like the unbelieving thief, say “Are you not the messiah? Save yourself, and then us!”

But we are not unbelievers. We, like the second thief, recognize that we have justly incurred any punishment that befalls us. But Jesus was an innocent man, hung on the cross for sins that He did not commit. And like the second thief we realize that the cross is not a defeat, but it was a victory: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

So the eyes of faith look at this tragedy and realize that Jesus has hung on the cross. God has died and risen from the dead. The God who is so full of love as to shed His own blood for us will not abandon us. A small child may not understand why a doctor must give him a shot, but he trusts his father who says the pain will be worth it in the end.

Christians, we know that the joy of the new creation will not compare to the suffering we have here. Jesus even promised that we would have trouble in this world. But he also promised that when we stand with Him on that day, and see what it means that He has overcome this world, then the veil will fall away — then this tapestry will take a new hue, as joy unspeakable winds its way through the warp and weft of suffering, and redeems it all for the glory of God.

Take heart. God has fixed all of this.

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Does being pro-life mean supporting forced motherhood?

On August 22, 2015, the satanic temple of Detroit showed up at a peaceful pro-life protest of Planned Parenthood in order to engage in self-described political theater, shown in the video linked above. Overall their counter protest is relatively lackluster. Sure, the wasting of milk has some shock value. The wearing of clericals and carrying of a crucifix just shows the lack of creativity involved. I am underwhelmed.

Beyond the basic lack of creativity in their costuming department, they employed an argument that I find basically preposterous. Well, “employed” is probably strong language for what actually happened. They just held up a sign that said “America is not a theocracy. End forced motherhood!”

Yawn. Boring.  Continue reading

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