Monday, 12 November 2007
I looked across the bay and thought you would have appreciated the view of the distant headland, and I remembered how you always seemed to thrill at the promise the sea brought of distant lands, romance and adventure. And surely you would have pointed out the late autumn dog-walkers nervously eyeing each other’s dogs for signs of trouble, the kind of quirky detail you would be bound to notice and chuckle about.
As I stood with the crowds I saw a late and solitary bee land on a beautiful white flowering shrub and kicked myself because I couldn’t remember the plant’s name. I knew it would be familiar to you though and had a wager with myself that you would probably have had the Latin name on the tip of your tongue. Your critical eye would have passed over the small, neat flowerbeds and found some small fault as well as plenty to generously praise.
As the hour approached I saw the uniformed men and women, boys and girls with their flags and regimental colours and recalled the Remembrance parades of my own boyhood with the local silver band, the families standing self-consciously outside the parish church because they were chapel but just this once they sort of forgot about all that and stood around dutifully. The self-conscious church-goers would walk out into the autumn sunshine, the silver band would strike up again with familiar military marches and then all would parade through the town to the humble Cenotaph and memorial garden typical of a small town - to remember. I learned then that no place is insignificant that has given of its best for the future of its children.
Just as the hour was upon us it began to rain a fine drizzle given greater force by the wind that blew the rain into our faces. I thought how you would have enjoyed that rain on your face and how you would have stood with a ramrod back and determined look, “getting your priorities right”. Then, when the wreaths had been laid and a piper had struck up to mark the end of the official ceremony the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds and I pictured you looking up into the sky, as you often did, as though a promise was about to be fulfilled.
But of course my walk to the Cenotaph was solitary; my gaze across the bay accompanied by memories alone; Came the hour I stood alone in the crowd, with a straight back and determined look that I hoped you would have been proud of. Alone because it was you I had come to remember. You, who mattered so much, made my world better by being in it, and then made “the ultimate sacrifice”.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
Sunday, 4 November 2007
Now when the local church is dealing with an actual foreign land and culture it typically throws its weight behind some missionary organisation. Perhaps it will have one or two keen individuals who feel called to foreign parts, people for whom it will pray and to whom it will send funds and encouragement periodically. Their pictures will be put on a notice board, alongside a map showing their location and newsletters will be read to the congregation from time-to-time. If the country isn’t too dangerous some youth might be sent out for two or three weeks experience. Otherwise foreign mission needn’t disturb the church’s comfortable, middle-class existence.
However, when the foreign country is a cult the church can’t simply “send” because this foreign country isn’t abroad so much as abroad in the land. Having a few people dedicated to the work doesn’t cut it because the cult comes to your neighbourhood, to your own door! This is shockingly uncomfortable and so the church largely ignores the problem, adopting a policy of keeping as healthy a distance as possible in the circumstances. Since that distance cannot be maintained geographically it is maintained ideologically. Cults are dubbed dangerous and subversive and members condemned as culpable and beyond the pale.
There is no need therefore, let alone any imperative to prepare thoughtfully, witness intelligently and reach out lovingly. After all, we have decided that it is too dangerous and they are too far beyond talking to. I recall speaking to a Christian friend after a church meeting. He had had Jehovah’s Witnesses around and, clearly exasperated declared, “It’s no good talking to these people in cults!” Seeing my impersonation of a goldfish as I stood in stunned silence he quickly remarked, “Of course you are different Mike.”
This attitude was eloquently brought home to me on two particularly memorable occasions. One time, when I was a very young man, I was in a local indoor market, standing at the perimeter of a Christian book shop nervously perusing a typical anti-cult book, and looking at what the author had to say about my own Mormon faith. What a witnessing opportunity for some caring and confident Christian. An older man, perhaps about sixty, stood behind me, looking over my shoulder from a discreet distance. I was unaware of him until he caught my attention with the question, “You don’t believe that rubbish do you?”
No sooner had I looked around at him than he took off at a brisk pace across the market. I took off after him, collared him and demanded to know if he knew me. Of course, he did not. “Then why,” I wanted to know, “assume that I was a Mormon? I needn’t have been.” I continued, “I am a Mormon, and want to know what exactly gives you the right to speak to me in that way when you don’t even know me?” He had no answer and ducked out of the market, unwilling to continue the ‘conversation’. I got the message however. I was fair game it seemed.
On another occasion, troubled about questions concerning my faith, I plucked up the courage to walk into a local Pentecostal Church - the type that sings about tearing down strongholds, binding the enemy and triumph in bucket loads – to ask for help. I entered the pastor’s office and explained very nervously that I was a Mormon and wanted to understand the differences between our respective faiths. He was understandably shocked to find a Mormon in his office. However, his response was less than helpful, and I found myself being told, “You know, of course, that there is a huge gulf between you and us?” Faltering in my resolve (I was not invited to sit down) I mumbled that I did understand and, when he seemed to have no plan to detain me, I backed out of his office, thanking him for his time (about 90 seconds).
Thank goodness for people in “anti-cult” ministries! However, there is a problem even here. You see, people who concern themselves with the continuous assault on truth that these cults represent tend to fall broadly into two categories. Many of the people working in “anti-cult” ministry are mature, intelligent and responsible. They are, however, often embarrassingly emphatic about what they believe and this does not sit well with the middle class, liberal agenda that typifies the modern Western church. These people draw the church’s attention to the uncomfortable issues surrounding truth and error, doctrine and teaching. They inconveniently insist that the church has a responsibility in these things and should see this as fulfilling the call to guard the deposit of faith. The church often sees it as unreasonable pedantry and blush in its presence.
Some others in anti-cult ministry however are rather immature, reactionary and irresponsible. They are sometimes damaged and flawed in some way. They can find no meaningful role in church that, despite its responsibilities toward them, doesn’t know what to do with them and feels relief when they find instead a place in so-called “para-church” organisations, sometimes finding a home in what is wrongly perceived as the exotic world of “anti-cult” ministry. These are the people who will turn up to any meeting, are glad to help in any capacity, consider themselves experts because they have read a few books and, given half the chance will hold forth on their pet cult ad nauseum.
Whichever group you look at the church is not comfortable with it. Whichever way you look at it the church wishes these people would go away or at least like good cobblers stick to their last; become a picture on a notice board; be thankful for the occasional hand out. Those in the ministry wish the church would live up to its responsibilities and actually learn to reach out to cult members not react to them.
Get out of My Light
The story goes that when a colleague asked Isaac Newton what he might do to help the great man Newton replied, “Get out of my light.” Christians are often the greatest obstacles to the cult member seeing Christ and coming to faith and if I was asked that same question I would reply, “Get out of their light!”
I don’t wish to be rude and certainly don’t want to discourage Christians from witnessing to people from other faiths. I am concerned about what kind of witnesses Christians so often are. Too many preach victory on a Sunday singing, “The Battle Belongs to the Lord”, then hide in the bathroom on a Monday when Jehovah’s Witnesses come to call. They preach grace on a Sunday and sing, “Just as I am, with not one single plea”, and on Monday stand at the door berating the Mormon for not being fit for human company let alone the company of Christians, much less the company of God. They harangue him as we might the devil himself.
This attitude to the cultist is a learned behaviour - we learn it from other Christians when we become Christians and would not have dared behave so crassly towards our fellow human beings before we came to Christ.
When the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness does come to Christ we find it nigh on impossible to change our attitude toward them, treating them with caution as though we never fully accept that they are truly converted. We don’t fully trust that they have left “all that” behind entirely. And anyway how can you fully trust anyone who could have fallen for that stuff in the first place?
What the Former Cultist needs
The new believer coming out of a cult faces challenges of his own. He has made a huge decision, the magnitude of which the Christian surely fails to appreciate. He has left behind friends, often relations, he’s changed loyalties, lost status perhaps, reputation and standing in the community that, until recently, was his world. He comes with a mixture of excitement about the Good News of Jesus Christ, questions and understandable doubts about his decisions, and hope for the future.
The best advice the new believer can have is to spend the next few years establishing firm Christian foundations in his life. This is so vital and yet the new believer, perhaps flattered by invitations to ‘share your testimony’, is often tempted to throw himself into “ministry” and help others come out. He doesn’t need this right now and it won’t help him become a fully born again Christian, with a knowledge of Christ that will take him through life. Much needs to be unlearned and much to be learned and the best place to learn is not the public platform. There is also often a subconscious agenda to this eagerness to bring someone else out, i.e. if others agree with you it is so affirming.
The Christian attitude to the former cultist so often re-enforces this ill-advised ambition as the former Mormon/JW finds he has to prove his bona fides to everyone he meets by taking every opportunity to tell his story, publicly reject his past and work against his former friends. He is cast into the role of an “ex-Mormon/JW” and is forever known by what he was and not by what he has become or what he is becoming in Christ.
What good is it if a man claims to have faith?
To put his roots down and establish a firm Christian foundation he needs to be welcomed and encouraged as would any other convert, lock, stock and misconceptions. His views and contributions need not be constantly treated with suspicion. When he struggles with issues, disagrees with people or otherwise proves increasingly comfortable in his new found freedom it shouldn’t automatically be attributed to his background for which Christians, all-too-often, and all-too-often inappropriately “make allowances”.
If he speaks warmly of his old friends and associates he need not be treated with suspicion, as though he were an unrehabilitated cultist. His old friends were probably very nice human beings and, in light of the role his new Christian friends have thrust on him, he might be missing just a little his old friends who simply accepted him and gave him status.
The bottom line is that it takes joined up church and grown up Christianity to make it possible for a former JW/Mormon to find a home amongst Christians and too many Christians, leaders included, are less than mature and all too autarchic. We ‘believe’ in the doctrine and sing with gusto the songs but need to realise that ‘faith without works is dead’. With James, I say, ‘show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do’.
If you truly believe in victory don’t go to the door in fear.
If you believe in grace don’t go to the door in judgement.
If you truly trust God then go to the door trusting that he has given you an opportunity to demonstrate assurance and share grace.
Otherwise don’t open the door because you will only make things worse.
Monday, 15 October 2007
Thursday, 11 October 2007
Monday, 8 October 2007
How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?
Charismatics - 1 to change the bulb and 9 to pray against the spirit of darkness
Calvinists - none, God has predestined when the light will be on. Calvinists do not change lightbulbs, they simply read the instructions and pray the lightbulb will be the one that is chosen to be changed.
TV evangelists - Only 1, but for the message of light to continue please send your donation....
Christians from independent churches - Only 1, any more might result in too much co-operation
Roman Catholics - none, they always use candles
Anglicans - "Change???"
Baptists - 1 to actually change the bulb and 9 to say how they liked the old one better
Liberals - This statement was issued: we choose not to make a statement either in favour or against the need of a lightbulb. However, if in your journey you have found the lightbulb works for you then that's fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your lightbulb or light source or non-dark resource and present it next month to our annual lightbulb service in which we will explore a number of lightbulb traditions including incandescent, fluorescent, longlife and tinted - all of which equally valid paths to luminescence.
Saturday, 22 September 2007
1.) FINE: This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.
2.) FIVE MINUTES: If she is getting dressed, this means a half an hour.Five minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given five more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.
3.) NOTHING: This is the calm before the storm. This means something, and you should be on your toes. Arguments that begin with nothing usually end in "fine."
4.) GO AHEAD: This is a dare, not permission. Don't Do It!
5.) LOUD SIGH: This is actually a word, but is a non-verbal statement often misunderstood by men. A loud sigh means she thinksyou are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you about nothing. (Refer back to #3 for the meaning of nothing.)
6.) THAT'S OKAY: This is one of the most dangerous statements a women can make to a man. That's okay means she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.
7.) THANX: A woman is thanking you, do not question, or Faint. Just say you're welcome.
8.) WHATEVER: Is a women's way of saying STUFF YOU!
9.) DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT, I'VE GOT IT: Another dangerous statement, meaning this is something that a woman has told a manto do several times, but is now doing it herself. This will later result in a man asking "What's wrong?" For the woman's response refer to #3.
Send this to the men you know, to warn them about argumentsthey can avoid if they remember theterminology.
Send this to all the women you know to give them a good laugh,cause they know it's true.
Friday, 31 August 2007
There is a trend today toward the new, the innovative and much of what used to be ‘mainstream’ church is cast aside and considered ‘traditional’, as though it was merely form and lacked substance. This has resulted in a shallow church experience as people constantly seek God’s immanence through innovative and experimental worship but neglect God's established Word. My argument is that it is the form that gives shape to the substance and that the formless, liquid ambivalent experience that calls itself ‘church’ today is proven insubstantial for the very reason that it lacks form!
As an example, young people seem to have an ‘experience’ of God but haven’t the first idea about how to talk to him. They don’t know the thrill that a developed prayer vocabulary can give you when talking to God, often falling back on the old saw about the Spirit speaking for us when we run out of words (Romans 8:26). I observe that these days they run out of words because they had so few to begin with and, far from needing help from God's Holy Spirit, they need help from God's Holy Word to educate them in the profound language of prayer.
The names of God are not pressed into service, the exploits of God are not recounted, the declared purposes of God are not repeated, the prayers of God's people do not reflect the heart of God as revealed in Scripture.
Worse, when people come into church they are often disillusioned with the world but are often disappointed to find the world in the church! I think of the great cathedral builders who constructed edifices made to reflect the experience of stepping out of the kingdom of this world and stepping into the House of God. Is that our experience today? All too often the answer is no.
Monday, 20 August 2007
I found his comments and obsrvations interesting though somewhat puzzling and here are my own (less than unbiased) thoughts.
I have more than a little sympathy with Medved’s views regarding Hollywood. The centre of the American film industry has a very poor record when it comes to recreating and depicting ‘historical’ issues. You only have to consider films like Braveheart (a romping adventure with little more than a tenuous grip on its supposed historical context), The Patriot ( no doubt appealing to many a gun-toting modern patriot but fast and loose doesn’t begin to describe the way the history was handled) and UB 571 (a total fiction). Nevertheless, I am puzzled by some of the issues he raises.
He asks, “Why would Hollywood release a controversial feature film about alleged Mormon terrorists of 150 years ago while all but ignoring the dangerous Muslim terrorists of today.” I imagine for the same reason that God’s mouthpiece for the world, the Mormon prophet, avoids the subject of Islamic terrorism, i.e. it isn’t good for business. Medved is missing the big issues here. The world stands on the brink of political, ideological, not to say environmental disaster and what does the prophet have to say? “Aren’t our youth wonderful?” Don’t blame the Hollywood moguls for following his example! They have an eye on the bottom line as much as Hinckley, and with greater justification. After all, they are in the movie business and he is supposed to be in the prophecy business.
And how odd to read a Jew promoting a “that was then, this is now” agenda! The spirits of the self-vaunting Joseph Smith and the totalitarian Brigham Young still prevail in a church that recognises no authority outside its own hierarchy, will truck no opposition from without or within, will go to any lengths to manufacture its own history and image and which guards the reputation of its first leaders with the same zeal that the Kremlin guarded Lenin and Stalin and the People’s Party still guard that of Mao. The spirit of Mormonism has not changed in its fundamentals and so even 170 years later we need to know and understand its roots and the journey it has taken. And why should that be so very odd? Isn’t that what history is about? Whether Hollywood has done a good, even a fair job remains to be seen, but whether the job needs doing is surely not in doubt – lest we forget.
People who have never been Mormons will be familiar with the verbal and intellectual contortions a Mormon will perform in order to avoid directly and specifically criticising an ‘authority’. They will readily admit that ‘our leaders are not perfect’ but will not concede a specific error – ‘rather than do so I would suffer my throat to be cut’.
Only when you have been a Mormon do you fully know with what glee the typical Mormon plays ‘the great game’. They relish the tabloid theology of McConkie and his progeny in FARMS and FAIR and, not unlike some Evangelical believers, anticipate that time when they will be vindicated and all dissenters sent to burn. Until that day they play the game with varying degrees of skill and aplomb, confident that every dissembling, disingenuous denial will be met that day with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Truth is Mormons lie, often competently, frequently knowingly, to themselves as much as to you.
The problem Christians have with this is that so many have bought into the liberal postmodern agenda of this modern world. They have bought into relativism, liberalism, deconstructionism and any number of wacky ideas that make them question the evidence of their own senses. Because of this they can't accept what God has said about the lost, about those who worship false gods, about those for whom this world is infinitely more important than the next. They don't like to think ill of these nice guys and can't imagine they would lie let alone knowingly.
If they think this way then they don't see the urgency for reaching out to Mormons because they don't seem all that lost. But they lie, often competently, frequently knowingly, to themselves as much as to you. This is because they are lost and need to hear the gospel. The only ground we have in common with them is that we once were lost like them. Otherwise...
Thursday, 16 August 2007
Monday, 13 August 2007
It seems to me that the tree was figurative rather than real because the Bible is too sensible a book to come up with the fairytale idea of a tree whose fruit gives you knowledge. If the tree is figurative then the nature of the sin is not important, otherwise the Bible would tell us what the sin was. In which case it is the fact of disobedience that is the emphasis not its particulars.
This being the case, we come to what came about as a consequence of the fall and why? It is interesting that before the fall:
The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame (Ge.2:25)
But after the fall:
The eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised that they were naked (Ge.3:7)
In both verses they were naked but in the first they were unaware of their nakedness and in the second they were all too aware of it. What occurred to effect this change?
It seems to me that up to this point their regard was entirely to God. They were unaware of their nakedness because they were unaware of themselves, that is to say they were unselfconscious. They could walk around naked unselfconsciously, they could have sex unselfconsciously because God was the centre of their world as they walked with him in the cool of the evening.
A single act of disobedience brought a devastating sense of themselves. They dethroned God and became the centre of their own world, becoming aware of themselves and thoroughly self-regarding for the first time. This is why sinfulness is in the nature of mankind and not simply an option we choose. Self-consciousness is much like becoming aware of anything for the first time. Once you realise a thing you simply must live in light of it, or go against your own nature in denying it. This is why such an incredible solution was necessary to put it right. It is in coming to faith in Christ that our attention and focus moves away from us and back to God in Christ. This is a miracle.
Sunday, 12 August 2007
Once I drove a Fiat Mormon because I was attracted by the exotic and mysterious. But it was empty promise more than 'eastern promise'.
Then I drove a Chrysler Charismatic because I was impressed by the chrome and the speed. But it was unreliable, stalled a lot and proved difficult to control.
I then drove a Ford Baptist because I was looking for something more dependable and familiar. But it wasn't very fast and didn't seem to go anywhere.
I am now test driving different makes but find them all lacking somehow. What I feel instinctively is that I need a Renault Fundamental or a Citroen Orthodox but they seem hard to come by these days.
Thursday, 9 August 2007
Friday, 3 August 2007
Wednesday, 1 August 2007
Saturday, 28 July 2007
I haven't seen him for a long time because he simply disappears from the radar then one day there will be a phone call or something and he is back. I know if he is around however because of a peculiar 'arrangement' we have that he knows nothing about but from which we both benefit in a strange way. You see, his obsessive/compulsive character makes him buy books, books on the sciences (especially mathematics and physics) and books on the Christian faith (especially theological/apologetic) and philosophy. These are not good for him because, rather than simply interest and inform him, they make him worrisome and distracted. Nothing I or anyone else can say will distract him from this obsession even though it would do him good to put the books down and go out more.
Occassionaly, however, he impulsively decides to dump a load of books, giving them to a local charity in the name of his late wife (a wonderful and long-suffering woman when alive) as a sort of bequest. He benefits from this inasmuch as it does him good to clear some of this stuff out of his life. I benefit inasmuch as I happened upon his charitable treasure trove and have been able to purchase at charity shop prices almost new books that I could not otherwise have afforded to think of purchasing. The charity also benefits, which is his intention, he benefits, which his friends are glad to see, and I benefit too, both in having the books cheap and in knowing that he is around and making some right decisions for himself.
So why do I feel the need to justify this happy exchange to myself? Maybe I should call him and have a chat.
Tuesday, 17 July 2007
All articles that coruscate with resplendence are not truly auriferous.
Sorting on the part of mendicants must be interdicted.
Masculine cadavers are incapable of rendering testimony.
A revolving lithic conglomerate accumulates no congeries of small, green, biophytic plant.
Members of an avian species of identical plumage tend to congregate.
Pulchritude possesses solely cutaneous profundity.
Freedom from incrustations of grime is proximal to rectitude.
It is fruitless to become lachrymose of precipitately departed lacteal fluid.
Eschew the implement of correction and vitiate the scion.
The stylus is more potent than the rapier.
It is fruitless to attempt to indoctrinate a superannuated canine with innovative manoeuvres.
Surveillance should precede saltation.
Scintillate, scintillate, minute, globular, stellar.
The person presenting the ultimate cachinnation possesses thereby the optimal cachinnation.
Exclusive dedication to necessitous chores without interludes of hedonistic diversion renders Jack a hebetudinous fellow.
Individuals who make their abodes in vitreous edifices would be advised to refrain from catapulting petrious projectiles.
Where there are visible vapours having their provenance in ignited carbonaceous materials, there is conflagration.
No remittance is given for actions which are taken counter to the codified body of jurisprudence.
"Entschuldigung, können Sie Deutsch sprechen?" he asks. The two Texans
just stare at him.
"Excusez-moi, parlez vous français?" The two continue to stare.
"Parlate italiano?" No response.
"¿Hablan ustedes español?" Still nothing.
So he has a final try: "Tatakalamaani bil arabiyya?"
The Swiss man drives off, extremely disgusted.
The first Texan turns to the second and says, "You know Bubba, maybe we should learn a foreign language."
"Why?" says the other. "That guy knew five and it didn't do him any good."
Monday, 2 July 2007
Quote for the Day:I've just returned from the United States where I have been researching a documentary series for Radio Four called "The Clinton Years" to be broadcast in August and September. Today's Quote for the Day comes from a former Clinton Cabinet member who started assessing George Bush'spresidency.
"But George Bush has changed," I suggested to him. "For example, now he seems to get Global Warming." The former Clinton Cabinet member started to laugh. "President Bush does NOT get Global Warming,"he insisted. "In fact he doesn't even get Evolution."
Sunday, 1 July 2007
1. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
5. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They're old hat.)
6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
7. Be more or less specific.
8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually)unnecessary.
9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
10. No sentence fragments.
11. Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.
12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary;it's highly superfluous.
14. One should NEVER generalise.
15. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
16. Don't use no double negatives.
17. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
18. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
20. The passive voice is to be ignored.
21. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parentheticalwords however should be enclosed in commas.
22. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
23. DO NOT use exclamation points and all caps to emphasise!!!
24. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
25. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forthearth shaking ideas.
26. Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when itsnot needed.
27. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hatequotations. Tell me what you know."
28. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times:Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use itcorrectly.
29. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
30. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
31. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
32. Who needs rhetorical questions?33. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
34. The passive voice should never be used.
36. Do not put statements in the negative form.
37. Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
38. A writer must not shift your point of view.
39. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in longsentences of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
40. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
41. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linkingverb is.
42. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
43. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
44. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun withsingular nouns in their writing.
45. Always pick on the correct idiom.
46. The adverb always follows the verb.
47. Be careful to use the rite homonym.And Finally...
47. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out
Friday, 29 June 2007
The Revised History of Joseph Smith - Not by his Mother (Sung to the tune of "Oh How Lovely Was the Morning")
Rain was coming down in pails
Joseph Smith had been out drinking
Quaffing moonshine and local ales
As he wandered home inebriate
To his knees he gently fell
And a vision induced by liquor
Arose from the depths of hell
"Joseph, if you will believe it,
I’m the father he’s the son.
As we tried to explain to Adam,
We are gods and you can be one.
Look out for a guy named Nephi,
He’ll come if he can, but look,
If he can’t I’ll send his mate Moroni,
And he’ll talk to you about a book."
Joseph ran to tell his mother,
"Mother, God appeared to me."
And his mother said, "Oh, Joseph,
Your tales will be the death of thee!"
So he went and told his father,
And his father said, "My son!
There’s some money to be made from this one.
We’ll be rich before the year is done."
"There’s no money in a vision",
Joseph reasoned with his dad.
Joseph senior then recounted
An encounter that he’d had.
"Look out for a man named Sidney,
He’s an educated man.
Sidney has a theory about Indians,
And we’ll utilise it if we can."
Sid and Joseph became Mormons,
"Wrote" a book and preached the word.
And their message won them converts
Even though it was quite absurd.
Priesthood quorums came from Sidney,
He was keen on firm control.
While for Joseph it was polygamy
That would define his prophetic role.
As the years have passed the Mormons
Have evolved and changed a lot.
Some would say this is their genius
Others think that it is a plot.
There are those who say that vision
Didn’t happen, not at all.
But the salutary lesson, surely,
Is drink comes before an upward fall.
National Geographic have published a major article on the recently discovered city of Zarahemla.
The Smithsonian Institute has announced that the Book of Mormon is now their key reference text in exploring Meso-American archaeology.
Mitt Romney and a council of fifty are resident in the Whitehouse.
DNA has proved that Native Americans are descended from Jews.
The Book of Mormon is number one in the New York Time bestseller's list.
An underwater boat with holes in the bottom is discovered washed up on the shore of central America.
The Pope has issued a bull entitled Deus Corporeum declaring that God has a physical body.
A collection of prophecies that should have been added to the Doctrine and Covenants since 1845 have been discovered.
Among the prophecies were, the ending of polygamy, the Wall Street crash, two world wars, the assassinaton of president Kennedy, and Amy Winehouse winning the 2007 Brits music award.
Polygamy has become legal.
Your pastor has invited the local Mormon bishop to preach on Sunday morning.
Your pastor sits in the front pew - with his wives.
Secondly, it is clear that God, in giving Adam a command regarding a prohibition on what fruit he could eat, was giving Adam a choice. Every argument regarding the sovereignty of God and the “free will” of man since has its foundations here. God is most certainly sovereign yet man is given a choice.
Thirdly, the Bible makes clear that man’s choice in the garden had disastrous and not providential consequences (Gen.3:23-24; Romans 5:12-13,18).The Mormon notion that, “Adam fell, but he fell in the right direction. He fell toward the goal…Adam fell, but he fell upward” (Sterling W Sill, First Quorum of Seventy) is bizarre!
This does not mean that God is not sovereign since it is God who gave man choice in the first place. But man is accountable for his choices. In God’s sovereignty he has provided a Saviour for all that turn to him in faith (John 3:14 c.f. Num.21:8-9).
Two things were in play here. Firstly the sovereignty of God which declares that God’s plan cannot be thwarted. Secondly, the sovereign will of God that man should choose to obey or disobey and experience the consequences of his choice. God’s sovereignty would not be compromised by man’s choice because God had ordained that man should choose and God’s plan could not be compromised or thwarted by man’s choice because God had already provided a Saviour.
Now all are saved who put their trust in him. Mormons present the rather hackneyed Mormon argument that, since you believe in Jesus all other things notwithstanding, therefore you must be “saved”. The problems with this argument are twofold.
First there is the problem of whether you have the right Jesus. The Bible tells us that there is a different Jesus and a different gospel (2 Cor.11:4; Gal.1:6). Do you have the right Jesus? Do you have the right gospel?
Secondly, there is the plain fact that putting your trust in anything in addition to the finished work of the Cross is adding to the gospel and, by adding, taking away from the gospel. If you trust in baptism, tithing, confessing Joseph Smith, temple worship, celestial marriage (all essential to Mormon salvation) then you are adding to the finished work of Christ and disqualifying yourself for the very reason that you are trusting in yourself and not in the Jesus of the Bible.
A lot of people are keen to express their own opinion on scripture, offer interpretations etc. The problem is, how do we know which one of us correct.
For those who argue what they say is in keeping with the Bible, well welcome to a orld with hundreds of denominations all arguing the same thing yet still disagreeing on interpretation.
Further, for those open minded individuals that accept that looking for truth requires stepping back and examining the facts, how do we know for sure that any particular version of the Bible is sufficiently correct in it' translation to facilitate a definitive answer to the many questions we face (I'm speaking collectively here as we will all be accused of trusting a book that cannot be verified independently).
Finally, even if we overlooked the inherent risk in translation, edition, interpretation, punctuation etc, can anyone honestly claim that they can offer the definitive interpretation of a single passage let alone the entire complex book?
So it is hardly surprising that after 2000 years we find ourselves in a world were 80% of the western population think religion is poppy cock, and 20% believe it in some form but cannot agree between themselves what that form is.
Who can offer a solution to these questions? This is why modern day prophets make absolute sense. The sheer lack of a authoritative figure to guide our interpretation, correcting errors etc is invaluable.
I found that argument quite compelling for years until I realised its fatal flaw. It basically presents two possible positions for the truth seeker. Either you investigate and discover for yourself what is the truth, or you abrogate that responsibility and trust to another man to do it for you. Either you take full responsibility for looking into these things for yourself, determined to go wherever the truth leads, or you complain that it is just too hard and ask someone else to do your thinking for you.
God says in His word, “I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me” (Prov.8:17 c.f. Matt.7:8)
The argument about wheat and tares is well made (Matt.13:24-30). The fact that there is error doesn’t mean that there is no truth and it seems to me that God intends each one of us to take responsibility and look and seek and find for ourselves. It is our responsibility, it seems to me, to seek that truth “with all our hearts” and not leave it to another to tell us what the truth is. Anyway, we are still making a judgement in choosing to follow a prophet and must, therefore, give an account for our choices.
It seems to me that we would be better finding for ourselves what the Bible has to say rather than looking to someone else to tell us what it says, or ought to say, or once said (I am not here discounting the good help of others. I am simply insisting that no other man can take responsibility for my choices).
Which brings me to my second point, which concerns the Mormon attitude to the word of God, the Bible. I find it curious that Mormons will passionately declare their trust in the Bible but refuse to trust what they see in its pages. They claim that it is open to interpretation and readily give up any attempts at understanding it as a hopeless task. Yet the psalmist declared, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (Ps.119:105) and, “The words of the LORD are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth seven times; You, O LORD, will keep them” (Ps.12:6-7) Was he lying?
In the New Testament we find an astonishing and yet encouraging statement:
“This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs and wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Heb.2:3-4)
Take each clause and study it. You will find each confirmed in history and in the lives of those who seek him.
- This salvation was announced by the Lord - (Luke 4:16-21)
- Confirmed by those who heard him – (1 John 1:1-5)
- God testified to it by signs and wonders and miracles – (Where do we start? Acts!)
- And gifts of the Holy Spirit – I can only testify that some 2,000 years later I saw sure and certain evidence of such gifts in church last Sunday morning!
It would seem that God intends us to take his word very seriously, understand it for ourselves, take the testimony of his Son, his Apostles, and his Spirit and act on what we see with our own eyes. I don't think that is asking too much.
The Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Independence, Missouri, Mormons printed the first edition of the so-called Inspired Version (JST) in 1867. This is the biggest break way group following the death of Joseph Smith, although they would protest that the Salt Lake Church is the breakaway group.
In the foreword to the JST much is made of 1 Nephi 13:28-29 from the Book of Mormon (BOM). In the RLDS BOM it is 1 Nephi 3:168-169 according to the same foreword because, of course, they have a different numbering system for most Mormon “scripture”. I will use the commonly available Salt Lake City BOM for the purpose of this article. This BOM reference is one of the earliest Mormon references to a corrupt and inadequate Bible.
“Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest--because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God--because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.”
The book referred to is the Bible, a fact made plain in earlier verses:
“The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles.
And the angel of the Lord said unto me: Thou hast beheld that the book proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record; and they bear record according to the truth which is in the Lamb of God.
Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God.
And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.
And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men." (1 Nephi 13:23-27)
The JST foreword further quotes the BOM (2 Nephi 3:12) in promising that,
“The fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins (the BOM) and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah (the Bible), shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions…” (Words in brackets added)
Anyone familiar with Mormonism at all will be aware that their fundamental claim is that, through the prophet Joseph Smith, God restored lost truths and re-established the true church. Joseph Smith started with the Book of Mormon, which he claimed was “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion…” , and a Bible having had “many parts which are plain and most precious” taken away . If the promise of 2 Nephi 3:12, that these two works shall “grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions…” is to be fulfilled then surely something must be done about the corrupt Bible. It seems wrong to think of confounding false doctrines with a Bible suspected of teaching false doctrines because of errors in translation.
In the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) 6:27 we read:
“And now I command you, that if you [Oliver Cowdrey] have good desires – a desire to lay up treasures for yourself in heaven – then shall you assist in bringing to light, with your gift, those parts of my scriptures which have been hidden because of iniquity” It seems, then, that there should be a restoration of the plain and precious truth, which was taken away, and that this restored truth should be “to the confounding of false doctrines”.
Further on in D&C 35:20 (which is referenced in the footnote to 6:27) we read:
“And a commandment I give unto thee [Sidney Rigdon] – that thou shalt write for him; and the scriptures shall be given, even as they are in mine own bosom, to the salvation of mine own elect.”
In the footnotes here it is made clear that it is the Bible that is being referred to and the Bible for which Sidney Rigdon is called to be scribe . There is, then, to be a restoration of the Bible in the grand work of Joseph Smith and, indeed, after giving specific instructions regarding what is to be taught in the church we read in D&C 42:15:
“And all this ye shall observe to do as I have commanded concerning your teaching, until the fulness of my scriptures is given”
Later in the same section we read the following:
“Thou shalt ask, and my scriptures shall be given as I have appointed, and they shall be preserved in safety; And it is expedient that thou shouldst hold thy peace concerning them, and not teach them until ye have received them in full.
And I give unto you a commandment that then ye shall teach them unto all men; for they shall be taught unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people.
Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church;
And he that doeth according to these things shall be saved, and he that doeth them not shall be damned if he so continue. If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things--that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” (Vv.56-61)
There is a clear intention here for the Lord to give scriptures in their fullness (v 57); preserve them safely (v 56); that they should then be “taught unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people”; and that they should be “for a law, to be my law to govern my church”. Most dire consequences follow for those who do not do these things (v 60).
It seems that there was every intention that the JST should replace the King James Bible. It is difficult to imagine anyone reading the above quotes and coming to any other conclusion. There is the argument that so long as truth is restored it doesn’t matter where we find it, i.e. in other Mormon scriptures. We would certainly all agree that truth is truth. But the issue here is the clear mandate to restore the scriptures, even as they are in mine own bosom, to the salvation of mine own elect . There can be no ambiguity concerning the intention of Joseph Smith since he clearly started the work he claimed God had given him, i.e. to translate scripture and restore it to its pristine wholeness. So where is the Mormon Bible? The work seemed to have every bit the urgency of the Book of Mormon in the need to have it translated (the translation work began as early as June 1830). How else would the “fulness” (sic) be sent out to the nations if the work is shelved? How could the plain and precious truth, which was lost, be restored? How could leaders hope to avoid damnation if the work is not completed (v 60)? And yet the Salt Lake Church has no restored Bible.
What adds to the puzzle is the way the Mormon Church continually downgrades our Bible, from the 8th article of faith , through the rabid anti-biblical polemics of early Mormon leaders , to the extensive list of biblical faults and failings Mormons are eager to discuss with Christians today. They suspect it and yet happily use it, whatever might be missing, whoever might have compiled it and however many corrupt hands it may have passed through.
Mormons will tell us that the work was not finished before Joseph Smith’s death in a gunfight in a Carthage jail. However Gordon B Hinckley, the current Mormon president, is acknowledged as a Prophet, Seer and Revelator. He supposedly carries the mantle of Joseph Smith. Furthermore, there have been no less than fourteen such prophets from the time of Joseph to the present. Could none of them complete this work? What happened to the promise that, “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things--that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” ? Surely, in light of such a promise, there should be no corrupt Bible in the Mormon Church today?
The simple answer to the puzzle is that the family of Joseph Smith led the breakaway group in Independence, Missouri. His widow, Emma, claimed that in law she and her family owned the JST, and the law agreed with her. Today the Independence group, the Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, owns and publishes the Mormon Bible (JST). The Salt Lake Church pays the Independence Church for the right to reproduce parts of that work in their own King James Bible.
Of course, the issue here is not simply one of which Bible we use. There is the more fundamental question of which Bible we trust. For all the criticism levelled against the Bible it simply stands, and continues to stand, unassailable, irreplaceable, bringing countless millions to faith for generations. Surely this book that has stood the test of time deserves more respect and is worthy of our trust. The miracle of its preservation and incredibly accurate transmission down to the present generation is itself testimony to its trustworthiness as an instrument of God in bringing men and women to faith. The questions for every Mormon are, if the Bible is as corrupt and unreliable as they claim why do Mormons continue to use it? On the other hand, if the Bible is all Christians claim it to be shouldn’t I think again about the truths Christians claim it teaches? If indeed the Bible is so reliable surely its truths, as understood by generations of Christians, and rejected by more than 170 years of Mormonism, should be re-evaluated. Our very eternal destiny hangs on getting this right and so we must, surely, get beyond the arguments about what Mormonism has failed to do, i.e. restore the Bible, and look at what the Christian Church has miraculously succeeded in doing, i.e. preserved the Bible.
I say miraculously because I think the focus of Bible critics, such as the Mormon Church, is on entirely the wrong aspect of Bible translation/transmission. Mormons make much of profane translators and wicked priests but the wonder is not simply that we have a Bible but that we have such an accurate and trustworthy Bible despite the failings, even of the best intentioned men down the years. The miracle is God’s in preserving it and not man’s in transmitting it. It is a question of having the faith to believe in God’s providential work in preserving his word and not in man’s competence. To Mormons it seems that God had to wait for the right man to come along, Joseph Smith, to achieve his ends. To Christians God is capable of working with and through the most unpromising materials (disciples who betrayed and denied him, followers who failed him) and yet achieve his ends. Which raises another question of trust. Every Mormon should ask, not just do I trust the Bible, but is my trust placed in a God who can preserve his Word? For surely only a God who can preserve his Word can preserve our lives. For if he cannot save his Word from the universal failings of fallen mankind, how can we trust him to save us from ourselves?
The first thing to realise is that if you are reading a Bible in your own language you are already involved in Bible translation because the work you are reading is a translation. You are also already involved in interpretation because translation work is not simply an exercise in linguistics; i.e. the translator does not simply look for the nearest equivalent in the language into which she is translating. Translators must ask themselves what is the original intention of the author. To give a simple example, the Welsh word Hiraeth can be translated as “longing”. A Welsh person, however, would probably want to tell you that it is not simply longing. You can long for a cup of tea but that would not be Hiraeth. To a Welsh person the word conveys the idea of longing for home and hearth. Would a better translation then be “homesickness”? Perhaps, but it is more a sort of nostalgia than a simple yearning to get home. To translate Hiraeth as “longing” would not be wrong; to translate it as homesickness might be better, however to translate it as “a nostalgic longing for hearth and home” might be better still. A suspicious person might be tempted to conclude, however, that something was going on because one word has become seven!
The truth is that any translation work has to take into account the fact that what is easily grasped in the context and language of one culture has to be “explained” in the context and language of another. Translators are perfectly capable of doing this but will not always agree in every respect on how best to do it. One might wish to stick with “longing” because it is brief and close enough to the original. Another might want to go for the seven words because, after all, it is the closest to the original meaning – a dynamic equivalence. A third might wish to go for “homesickness” as a worthy compromise.
All three, however, are saying the same thing and the reader must simply be prepared to do some work in reaching an understanding of what is being said. That is why having several translations available is helpful. Not so you can pick the one you like best but so you can understand the nuances in the message being translated. Whichever you choose, the translation is accurate and should not be doubted simply because it involves a lot of work on the part of the translator and more than a little on the part of the reader.
The only time to complain is when a so-called translator goes to the opposite meaning to the original in translation, i.e. making Hiraeth translate to loathing instead of longing. Such shoddy work must be treated with suspicion and rejected. To give an example from the New Testament using one of my own favourite verses, Romans 8:1&2, Here are several translations of the this verse:
King James Bible There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
New International Version Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
Jerusalem Bible The reason, therefore, why those who are in Christ Jesus are not condemned is that the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus set you free from the law of sin and death.
Phillips Modern English The truth is that no condemnation now hands over the head of those who are “in” Christ Jesus. For the new spiritual principle of life “in” Christ Jesus lifts me out of the old vicious circle of sin and death.
American Standard Version There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death.
They all express these verses slightly differently.
The KJV reflects the times in which it came forth, C.1611, and the language and work of the major translator on whose work it is largely based, William Tyndale. Readers of the KJV must take into account the fact that it was specifically designed to be read aloud, and it is certainly true that you get the best from it by reading it aloud. Perhaps that is why the frontispiece contains the words Appointed to be Read in Churches.
The NIV is a more modern translation designed both for group study and worship as well as personal study and devotions. It is what is termed a dynamic equivalence, which means the translators asked themselves what is the equivalent English word or phrase that best conveys the meaning of the original and not just a transliteration.
The Phillips is a more free translation produced by one man who clearly wishes to convey the dynamism of the message in these verses. He is as much “preaching” and teaching as translating. Nevertheless, it is still a good translation and still conveys the same message.
If you are reading anything, from the Bible to the sayings of Buddha or the wisdom of the Dalai Llama, or a Japanese Manga comic, in your own language rather than the original you are reading a translation. You should ask why it is you trust any translation and then apply that standard consistently.
Modern scholars translate modern Bibles from the earliest and most reliable documentary sources and have tried and tested methods for determining how reliable the process is. The old Mormon chestnut about modern Bibles being 'a translation of a translation of a translation of a...' is a blatant, ignorant and shameful lie though they still peddle the lie around our doors to this day.
Modern translation work is incredibly accurate and reliable but the serious Bible student must make an effort to understand the process if they are going to understand the existence of different translations and other paraphrases.
Mormons, on the other hand, adhere to the myth of Joseph Smith as properly 'inspired' Bible translator and Gordon B Hinckley as a man dressed in the prophetic mantle of Joseph. The problem is why don't Mormons use the so-called Joseph Smith Translation and, IF as is often claimed the translation work is 'not completed' (a moot point), why haven't subsequent prophets finished the work begun by Joseph? Now the serious Bible student must choose between a tried and tested, proven and accurate process of translation from the earliest and most reliable documents or the JST which is so suspect that even the Mormons don't use it.
Thursday, 24 May 2007
There has been a good deal of hullabaloo about the dramatic and the immanent in the working of God in our lives and I am aware of a dangerous romanticism surrounding the experiences we are supposed to be having in these days. We have lost sight of the sound biblical need to simply persevere. Christians still suffer disappointments, struggle with temptations, and suffer the normal sometimes-dreadful consequences of being human in the 21st Century. Christians can struggle with guilt because they are not overcoming and triumphing when what is required is perseverance.
When I became a Christian I was thrilled to learn that my salvation has three elements, i.e. I am saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved, indicating clearly a process of sanctification and offering ‘more to come’. The emphasis these days seems to be on the first part of the process and the immanence of God to the exclusion of the process through which we are going and the goal to which we press. As Paul put it, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or are already been made perfect but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view" (Philippians 3:12-15)
There is a call here for a Christian pragmatism that has been obscured by the excitement of event-based and phenomenon-driven Christianity. After many years my heart goes especially to those who find themselves struggling with the frustrations of every day life, disappointments and loss, temptations to sin and the all-too-prevalent feeling of guilt at living all-too-ordinary lives when everything tells them that they ought to be ‘overcomers’, ‘more than conquerors’, ‘soaring’, etc. etc.
Now I am not one to discourage the overcomers amongst us and I praise God for those who inspire us with their lives and triumphs. But I do feel that we ought also to praise God for those who persevere, those who ‘press on’ but are all-too-aware that they have not yet obtained these things. There are times when we know triumphs and times when we know discouragement and disappointment. My concern is that in those times we should be people who don’t give in to giving in, that we persevere and take comfort in the simple fact of our perseverance.
"Do not judge me by the heights I have attained but by the depths from which I have climbed"
Wednesday, 16 May 2007
Tuesday, 15 May 2007
There was a time when people believed the earth was flat but, given the dearth of information in earliest times, that might be forgiven. However, by around 600BC, Pythagoras had come up with the idea of a spherical shape for the earth. By 240 BC Eratosthenes had measured the earth’s circumference. By the time of Jesus it was a commonly accepted view of the world. Soon Ptolemy was to work out the system of longitude and latitude. Knowledge continues to grow and inform as we now see pictures of the earth from space and we continue to learn.
Despite this we regularly hear people trot out the argument that, just the day before last week, people thought the world was flat. It is a useful, if lazy, way to dismiss anything religious as simply a vestige of those dark days when the world was flat, the sun orbited the earth - and God was in his heaven. It is an excuse for dismissing the challenge of faith and caricaturing ‘believers’ of every stamp, but especially Christians, as superstitious throwbacks.
The Bible begs to differ:
"So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, you must live no longer as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of their ignorance…" (Ephesians 4:17-18)
In God’s scheme of things futile thinking is out, understanding and enlightenment is a much-sought-after commodity, and ignorance robs us of life. Christians are not to give in to corrupt thinking and deceitful desires:
"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds;" (Eph. 4:22-23)
It is the mind that is renewed, as Paul pointed out to believers in Rome:
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2)
In this process we become more like our creator as we, put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph.4:24 c.f. Col 3:10).
"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body." (Eph.4:25)
The problem I see is that some Christians can give the impression that becoming a Christian means never having to think again. Like the popular flat earth fable propagated by sinners trying to avoid God, we can come up with our own myths, legends and misrepresentations of simple facts as well as profound truths. Some I have heard over the years include:
- Being told on many occasions by Mormons that the Church of England started because Henry VIII wanted a divorce. This is a gross misrepresentation of complex and profound historical and political facts.
- Hearing that Galileo was "thrown into a prison" by the Pope of the day for daring to suggest that the earth wasn’t the centre of the universe and man at the pinnacle of creation. Some people need to research their history.
- The suggestion, still popular in some circles, that Jesus was not even an historical figure, let alone the Son of God. Such claims are more to do with wishful thinking than historical data.
- You can prove anything from the Bible! Come on give me a break!
As Christians, with new minds, we dare not show ignorance before a world that watches us for excuses to reject God on the basis that Christianity is irrational and unreasonable. Some would have us believe otherwise but Paul wrote about renewed minds, putting off ignorance, enlightened thinking and speaking truth. This makes us like the God who made us and surely this is our hope and desire, that we should be like him. May we be found to be like him and grow more to be like him as we review and renew our understanding and knowledge of him and the world he made and died to save.
I have spent the best part of the past twenty years trying to equip the church to deal with the cults. I have come to the conclusion that my time might have been better spent equipping the cults to deal with the church. I have found much to be thankful for in the counter-cult community and have had dealings and formed friendships with many caring, patient and truly Christian people.
That being said it seems that there are two extremes of behaviour and attitude that are ubiquitous and depressing. The first is the one in which the cult member is regarded as having no intrinsic worth unless and until they convert. Before that happens they are fair prey for anyone who fancies chancing their arm at a bit of witnessing, that witnessing usually involving a lot of shouting, finger pointing, denouncing, ridiculing and ‘casting out’. It is the sort of conduct that, I understand, can be witnessed at Temple Square in Salt Lake City around conference time and I deplore it. It is something I see myself from time-to-time and it always embarrasses and angers me.
The other extreme is as bad, if not worse, however. It is that liberal attitude that ‘respects’ other faiths, new religions etc. such that there are no meaningful differences between them. There is no objective truth, no way to be lost, no way to be saved, no faith for which to contend. In short no light in the darkness just a bunch of people scrambling around in the failing light politely repeating, ‘after you’, ‘no, after you’ as they defer to one another all the way down to hell.
What is the answer? Surely it is in the words of Peter:
In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16)
Christians have a hope and it is uniquely founded upon Jesus Christ. There is one hope and one reason for that hope. We are to tell of that hope and that reason. There is a clear injunction to evangelise those who don't have this hope. But it is to be done with gentleness and respect for others and care for the good name of the One on whom that hope is founded.
My experience of the two extremes has seen some so bent on telling the reason that they fail to model hope and forget their responsibility for the reputation of Christ. They turn nasty and vindictive and cherish the idea of Mormons vilified, embarrassed and burning in an especially hot part of hell.
Others, however, are so determined to nurture a good reputation (usually their own is uppermost in their thinking, "see how enlightened I am?") that they dare not risk offence even though the Bible makes clear that the Cross is an offence to those that are dying. These take every opportunity to find the good in Mormonism, downplay differences as experimental rather than fundamental, and reinforce in Mormons the false notion that they really are part of the wider Christian community and have something positive to offer. Such an approach would have robbed me of my salvation and I do not appreciate it.
Personally, I despair not so much of the counter-cult community, that at least makes every effort to reach those lost in deceptive and destructive cults, as I do of the church in general that fails consummately to understand its responsibilities for those lost in false religions. Allow me to illustrate.
Get out of My Light
The story goes that when a colleague asked Isaac Newton what he might do to help the great man Newton replied, "Get out of my light." Christians, it seems to me, are often the greatest obstacles to the cult member seeing Christ and coming to faith and if I was asked that same question I would reply, "get out of their light!"
I don’t wish to be rude and certainly don’t want to discourage Christians from witnessing to people from other faiths. I am concerned about what kind of witnesses Christians so often are. I am all-too-aware of Christians that preach victory on a Sunday singing, "The Battle belongs to the Lord", then hide in the bathroom on a Monday when Jehovah’s Witnesses come to call. We preach grace on a Sunday singing, "Just as I am, with not one single plea", and on Monday stand at the door berating the Mormon for not being fit for human company let alone the company of Christians, much less the company of God, haranguing him as we might the devil himself.
Why do we do it? This attitude to the cultist is a learned behaviour - we learn it from other Christians when we become Christians and would not have dared behave so crassly before we came to Christ. Indeed, we would fear to behave so badly in any other social setting because we know that such conduct might deservedly find us conducted to the nearest accident and emergency unit.
When the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness does come to Christ we find it nigh on impossible to change our attitude toward him, treating him with caution as though we never fully accept that he is truly converted. We don’t fully trust that he has left "all that" behind entirely. And anyway how can you fully trust anyone who could have fallen for that stuff in the first place?
Disgust and disapproval are so reassuring. They anchor our moral sentiments and feel instinctively like a moral proof. To abandon our sense of disapproval seems to have the effect of cutting at the very foundations that support our innate sense of right and wrong. Yet, if we are to be effective witnesses for Christ then grace demands that we overcome our instincts and look at the world aright, not according to our feelings but according to what is truly in front of us.
What the former cultist needs
The new believer coming out of a cult faces challenges of his own. He has made a huge decision, the magnitude of which the Christian surely fails to appreciate. He has left behind friends, often relations, changed loyalties, lost status perhaps, reputation and standing in the community that, until recently, was his world. He comes with a mixture of excitement about the Good News of Jesus Christ, questions and understandable doubts about his decisions and hope that they have been right.
The best advice the new believer can have is to spend the next few years establishing firm Christian foundations in his life. This is so vital and yet the new believer, perhaps flattered by invitations to ‘share your testimony’, is often tempted to throw Himself into "ministry" and help others come out. He doesn’t need this right now and it won’t help Him become a fully born again Christian, with a knowledge of Christ that will take Him through life. Much needs to be unlearned and much to be learned and the best place to learn and grow is not the public platform. There is also often a subconscious agenda behind this eagerness to minister and help others ‘come out’, i.e. it reinforces the decision he has made and proves Him right. If others agree with you it is so affirming.
The Christian attitude to the former cultist so often re-enforces this ill-advised ambition as the former Mormon/JW finds he has to prove his bona fides to everyone he meets by taking every opportunity to tell his story, publicly reject his past and work against his former friends. He is cast into the role of an "ex-Mormon/JW" and is forever known by what he was and not by what he has become or what he is becoming in Christ.
To put his roots down and establish a firm Christian foundation he needs to be welcomed and encouraged as would any other convert. His views and contributions need not be constantly treated with suspicion. When he struggles with issues, disagrees with people, questions things, or otherwise proves increasingly confident in his new found freedom it shouldn’t automatically be attributed to his background for which Christians, all-too-often, and all-too-often inappropriately "make allowances".
If he speaks warmly of his old friends and associates he need not be treated with suspicion, as though he were an un-rehabilitated cultist. His old friends were probably very nice human beings and, in light of the role his new Christian friends have thrust on him, he might be missing just a tad his old friends who simply accepted him for who he was.
What good is it if a man claims to have faith?
The bottom line is that it takes joined up church and grown up Christianity to make it possible for a former JW/Mormon to find a home amongst Christians and too many Christians, leaders included, seem to just play at it. We ‘believe’ in the doctrine and sing with gusto the songs but need to realise that ‘faith without works is dead’. With James, I say, ‘show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do’.
- If you truly believe in victory don’t go to the door in fear.
- If you believe in grace don’t go to the door in judgement.
- If you truly trust God then go to the door trusting that he has given you an opportunity to demonstrate assurance and share grace.
- If they come to faith encourage them to come all the way and not simply the safe distance that gives you comfort and assurance.
Otherwise don’t open the door because you will only make things worse.
Saturday, 12 May 2007
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (Jn.14:6)
There is nothing remotely compromising about the message of the cross.
Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to a cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him…
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear…Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ….
Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:22-39)
With our "Great Commission" clearly spelled out, "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Matt.28:19-20), we cannot, we dare not compromise.
Winning Friends and Influencing Sheep
Dale Carnegie, the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, astutely observed that "If you want to make an enemy, tell a man he is wrong". But if we are going to that man with the Christian message, the message of Acts 2, how can we possibly avoid the risk of making an enemy? When dealing with the errors we encounter, and applying the corrective of Scripture, how can we make a friend and still "tell a man he is wrong"?
Isaiah, in describing the work of the cross and the desperate needs of a rebellious world, wrote:
"We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way"
And this describes perfectly the people to whom we are to take this uncompromising Christian message. All are following a way that seems right to them, their own way. But Isaiah goes on to describe God’s response to this straying world:
"And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6)
In Matthew’s gospel we read these words of Jesus:
"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander." (Matt.18:12-13)
The apostle Peter’s familiar instruction to believers helps us here as he encourages us:
"In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." (1Peter 3:15).
Surely the answer to our question - "how can we make a friend and still "tell a man he is wrong"?" - is, in telling him he is wrong, we should also show him he is valued.
Christ in your Heart – and in your Witnessing
Sometimes, in our evangelistic efforts, we can lay such great store on correcting people that we can forget to value them. It is as though the person to whom we are speaking has no value until they come around to our way of thinking. It is well to remember that "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Ro.5:8).
God’s response to our sinfulness and rebellion is a demonstration of love. Setting apart Christ in your heart means more than telling the woman at the well that she is wrong in her beliefs and lifestyle. It means demonstrating that she is valued by speaking to her with gentleness and respect.
In "witnessing to the cults" it is very easy to become combative when we mean to be challenging, condemnatory when we should be caring, judgmental when we should be gentle and respectful. As we approach our evangelism perhaps it would help to bear in mind the following:
Apologetics isn’t there to make us look clever, but to make the message clear and more convincing. Remember that Jesus could have commanded angelic legions and looked mighty and triumphant if that had been God’s purpose (Matt.26:52-54). How often have I heard tales of Christians sending off a Jehovah’s Witness "with their tail between their legs", the argument won but the Witness lost? As we marshal our legion of arguments we must ask whether we are serving the purpose of God in winning souls or serving ourselves in gaining a reputation for winning arguments. Are we sharing the good news that Christ died for sinners, the just for the unjust, or are we breaking the bad news that our visitor is in a cult and doomed unless they get out? There is a world of difference.
Apologetics isn’t there primarily to pull down the Mormon Church or the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society but to win the Mormon or Witness at your door. Long after Jesus had returned to glory both the temple and the establishment that crucified him still stood – for a time. But already, during his ministry and following Pentecost, people were responding to the call to repent and be baptised. Individuals were being saved into the kingdom even as the kingdom of Satan seemed indestructible.
Apologetics is an essential tool in our armoury, but we should remember that we do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm (Eph.6:12). This is particularly difficult for those who have been victims of deception but it is well to remember that the Mormon at your door is not the Mormon Church, the Witness is not the WTBTS. You are not tearing down strongholds but building a bridge. If we have put on Christ then, though we may burn with anger at the injustice and deception perpetrated by these organisations, we will look with love and compassion on those who are deceived just as we once were. Ask yourself, am I getting back at the organisation that hurt me, or am I valuing the person in front of me by sharing the truth with gentleness and respect?
Apologetics isn’t enough and no one can be reasoned into becoming a Christian. Apologetics can, however, remove obstacles to faith by showing that the Christian faith is not irrational. We can, with God’s help, "convince" people of so much, but more important than being convinced is being convicted. Conviction of sin is something brought by the Holy Spirit. That is why we need to pray for those to whom we witness. If we do not value them we will be less inclined to pray for them. If we value them we will speak the truth with gentleness and respect and pray that they may come to know him even as we have. Because they, like sheep, have gone astray, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of them all - if someone would but tell them the truth, in love.