Friday, February 29, 2008

Three interesting videos

When mormons publicly question church teachings, it is not uncommon for them to be summoned to a church disciplinary council. One former mormon, Lyndon Lamborn, recorded the disciplinary hearings that led to his excommunication. It is interesting to listen to, as he attempts to reason and testify to the mormon leaders who are sitting in judgement of him. The outcome is a foregone conclusion, but he handled it very humbly.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The death of a legend

William F. Buckley, founder of National Review magazine, died today at the age of 82. Few people have had a more profound impact on the political environment, while not being a household name, than William F. Buckley. I would hazard a guess that most people who vote Republican in November have no idea who Buckley was or that he was one of the driving forces behind where the GOP is today. Other than Ronald Reagan, no other person has the level of impact on the intellectual underpinnings of American conservatism.

My family has always held Buckley in the highest esteem. The intellectualism, the dry wit, the biting sarcasm and the smarmy mean streak all appeal to us as a family. But American conservatism has moved beyond the elitist, libertarian roots that Buckley represented. The Republican party, the two-party system representative of conservatism in America, looks very different from the Ivy League elite men's club it used to be. Buckley championed Christian virtues in American culture, but it struck me that his idea of Christian virtue was more a philosophical idea than a life-changing reality. Nonetheless, Buckley was one of the great champions of the small government, libertarian, anti-communism that were the hallmarks of the Reagan revolution.

The reliance of Buckley conservatives on the Southern and Midwestern religious conservatives to build a voting coalition, rally the troops and get the grassroots efforts needed to win elections is grating. I have always gotten the sense that ideological purity has trumped political pragmatism. Bully for Buckley and company, but that leads to lots of Democrats in high office. On the other hand, Buckleyites seem to revel in misery and harrumphing about the state of things, so maybe he enjoyed being out of power and complaining about those who are in. He was a funny fellow, in a dry, almost humorless sort of way.

Rest in peace Bill.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Founders Ministries Blog: The Renaissance World--an online class for Middle Schoolers

Now here is a great idea! Tom Ascol at Founder's Ministries is announcing a pilot online course for middle-schoolers, "The Renaissance World" . I think this is a fantastic idea! What a great use of the internet, accessing the expertise of another, qualified, like-minded individual to broaden the education of our kids. I already fired off an email to get more information!

If there is an opportunity for the homeschool movement, it is this: one of the great strengths of the homeschool movement is it's tendency to fierce independence, but that is also a potential weakness. There are so many people with a broad range of talents, education and experience in the homeschool community, but they rarely interact. We tend to end up in like enclaves, but with the high speed internet access we currently enjoy there is no reason we shouldn't seek out ways to share the experiences and backgrounds that make us so unique. Thank you to Founders Ministries for at least trying something new!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Something is rotten in Denmark

In a couple of weeks we are headed to Toledo for the Toledo Reformed Theological Conference, and I have high hopes. Eschatology is something that I really don't have a good handle on, at least compared to other areas of doctrine where I am still an amateur but have an established position that I can articulate and defend. I sorely need this conference to help me with my position, which sets it apart from other conferences where I am the choir getting preached to on topics we all agree on. This is how it breaks down for me now, holding very gingerly to a fuzzy Amillennialism...

On the one hand, lots of people I respect theologically in Reformed circles hold to an Amillennial view (Al Mohler, John MacArthur and a few others being notable exceptions). Read through the eschatology section on Monergism and it is obvious where most Reformed people come down on the topic, i.e. squarely in the Amillennial camp. It is almost like being Amillennial is part of the membership requirements for being Reformed, along with using the ESV Bible and wearing Monergism T-shirts! Monergism is featuring a great series of lectures by Kim Riddlebarger titled: "Amillennialism 101." Don't hold your breath for a similar series called "Dispensationalism 101".

On the other hand, lots of people I view with a ton of suspicion hold to the dispensational premillennial view. People like Hal Lindsay, Tim LaHaye, etc. are kind of kooks and make me cringe and I hold that much of what they espouse is bordering on heretical so I naturally assume that where there is one aberrant teaching, there likely is another. In other words, I can't put my finger on specifics but something is rotten in Denmark and it makes me nervous. If those guys are fer premillennialism, I'm agin' it!

Now I get that basing a theological position on something other than the Scriptural evidence is bad news, and basing my position on what people I like think is even worse. But I haven't had the time or background to really work out my position, so this conference with three people who are experts presenting the three main positions for two solid days should go a long way towards cementing where I stand. I doubt I will come back from Toledo a pretrib, premil dispensationalist but hopefully I will be able to better declare and defend a millennial position based on something other than being opposed to guys wearing bad suits with bad haircuts.
Funny stuff!

It is nice to have a Republican who has a sense of humor....

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Plucked from the fire

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?" Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, "Remove the filthy garments from him." And to him he said, "Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments." And I said, "Let them put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by. And the angel of the LORD solemnly assured Joshua, "Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree." (Zechariah 3: 1-10)

The image we see here is of Satan, accusing one of God's people, the High Priest Joshua, pointing out the filthy garments he was wearing. But we also see God rebuking the enemy for attacking one whom God has chosen and saved from the flames. I came across this passage in an R.C. Sproul video series, Pleasing God, which I just finished leading a men's study through. Pretty good stuff all around, but this passage really stuck with me. Probably because of where I am. It is easy to despair, to look at ourselves and hear the enemy whisper: "Who are you fooling, who do you think that you are?" Satan knows our sins, he knows our weaknesses. Satan knows where to hit us where it hurts. But even as Satan accuses, it is God who justifies. The finished work of Christ on the cross, His shed blood covers our sins, His grace is greater than all our sins.

This is not to say that the sin and failing in our lives is OK, or that we should ignore it or that once saved we have no responsibility to follow God's commands. That would fall into the category of antinomianism. But it is an unfortunate reality that as Christians, we still sin on a daily basis. Many of us, me included, let that failure paralyze us into inaction. When we do that, Satan wins. Satan can't make a Christian become unsaved, but he can accuse a Christian into sitting on the sideline, and that accomplished his purpose as well. It is true that we are still sinners, but it is also true that we are justified. We are Simul justus et pecator, at the same time just and sinner. That is hard to wrap your mind around, but thank God it is true.

The other thing that struck me was that the image of brands being plucked from the fire really describes us all. We were all already in the fire when God plucked us out. A branch in a roaring fire does not get up and remove itself from the flames. In the same way, a sinner does not hear Jesus plaintively, “softly and tenderly” call them and get up and save themselves. It is the Lord God, and He alone, that chooses and pulls sinners from the fire they (and you and I) so richly deserve. It is not that they are intrinsically a better branch, or did something in their existence to warrant being saved but only by the merciful grace of Jesus Christ are they not in the fire.

Modern Christianity paints a picture where we are sitting around neutral in a pile of twigs and God capriciously tosses generally good people into hell on a whim. The Bible tells a different story, one that shows us that whether we are 8 or 80 we are already as good as in the fire, our natural destiny as children of wrath is hell. It is only through the undeserved, almost unexplainable mercy of God that any of us are saved. It ought not be on the Christian's mind to ask "Why aren't more saved", the question should be "Why are any saved?" We stand before our Maker dressed in filthy rags, the rags of of our own works and righteousness and God drapes the clean, white robes of Christ's righteousness on us, covering our sins and showing us justified.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

Christian, He has clothed you with the garments of salvation, the robe of righteousness and it is His righteousness, the righteousness of His Son that covers you. He has extended that grace to you because of His grace, His mercy and His love. If you are worthwhile for God to condescend to pluck you from the fire, that means you are valuable in His eyes and that means that no matter how imperfect we are, He values us and that means everything!
It wasn't Together for the Gospel but... was still a great time of fellowship. I attended the Northeast Michigan Reformation Society meeting on Saturday, and spent a few hours meeting fellow Reform minded folks and hearing some solid teaching. I normally view people on the sunrise side of the Lower Peninsula with suspicion, but these turned out to be good folk. It is encouraging any time you see that you aren't a lone Reformed ranger in the Northwoods! Found out that a number of the people are also going to T4G and the Toledo Reformed Theological Conference, so there will be some familiar faces down south. One certain Reformed pastor wimped out and called in sick, but Pastor Joe VonDoloski from Vanderbilt Community Church made it and gave a rousing sermon.

Good times!

Thank you Ralph!

In the "tilting at windmills" category, arch-lefty Ralph Nader has announced another third party candidacy, which can only help McCain and hurt Hillary/Barack. I wouldn't be shocked to find out someday that Karl Rove has been paying him to run for President to hurt the Democrats.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Today is our sixteenth wedding anniversary! Sixteen years and eight kids, you can't say we haven't been productive...

Here is to sixty more anniversaries (but not 30 more kids!)

The fruits of a life without Christ

It seems that these sorts of stories pop up with disturbing regularity, and we gradually become desensitized to them. A young couple left their 5 month old child strapped in a car seat for eight days until the infant was found dead.

PEORIA, Ill. — A central Illinois couple faces first-degree murder charges in the death of their 5-month-old baby, who was found unresponsive in a car seat that had been placed in a crib.

Both Tracey Hermann, 21, and James Sargent, 23, appeared Wednesday in Peoria County Circuit Court in the death of Benjamin Sargent.

The charges state the parents' actions or lack thereof, were "brutal and heinous . . . indicative of wanton cruelty," factors that could mean they face up to 100 years in prison if convicted.

The 5-month-old was dropped off at his parents' house on Feb. 4, strapped into his car seat. Eight days later, he was found in the same position, said Peoria County State's Attorney Kevin Lyons during a bond hearing for the parents.

"He died from starvation due to neglect from these two defendants, his parents," Lyons said. "It's the worst case of child neglect we have seen since the turn of this century."


During the eight days the baby was strapped in the seat, both Hermann and Sargent were home, "playing video games, watching TV, feeding and caring for themselves," Lyons said.

With the lead-in to this story reading that the parents left their child to die because they were playing video games , it can become easy to point the finger of blame at video games, and I guarantee that it will become a sermon illustration in more than one church. Whether video games, or Pokemon cards or Dungeons & Dragons, it is easy to use the symptoms as a windmill to tilt at and avoid the real topic. Far better to complain about "them" instead of addressing what is wrong with "us". It is comfortable to say those people are sinners, Halo is of the devil, that X-box controller is a key to the gates of hell itself. It is a lot harder to say that you people sitting out in the pews, and me up in the pulpit, and the ladies in the choir, and Billy Graham are all sinners heading for the same hell as those parents who abandoned their child without Christ.

This sort of behavior, that displays an utter disregard for human life, is not reserved for video game players, people who dress in Goth clothes etc. How many upper-class couples choose to abort an unwanted pregnancy? How many highly educated people think that euthanasia is great because who wants those creepy old people hanging around and taking up vital resources? How about Marcus Fiesel, the young foster child left duct taped in a closet and then burned to cover the crime? The killers were foster parents in a nice neighborhood in Cincinnati. And they killed a child. They weren't dressed in all black and played Assassin's Creed for weeks on end.

I play my share of video games. The best use of my time? Certainly not. Does playing video games make you a sinner? Nope. Being a human makes you a sinner. All of us, all y'all. Some people are horrible human beings by human standards, like these pieces of human refuse who left an infant to die in a car seat. Some people are just swell folks, like puppies and apple pies. From the worst to the best, the only difference when that day of judgement comes is the imputed righteousness of Christ, or lack thereof. That is the missing piece of the puzzle for most Christians. We get that "those people" are sinners, we get that "us people" are saved by grace but what we don't get is that it is because of grace, and only because of grace, that "us people" are not "those people". There is nothing inherently good or righteous or wise about Christians. It is Christ who is inherently good, righteous and wise. We don't like to hear that we are miserable sinners who deserve hell, but if the Bible teaches us anything about man, that is it.

"...for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth..."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Some vital listening...

A couple of radio programs that are thought-provoking.

The first is from the White Horse Inn, as part of the Christ-less Christianity series in 2008, titled "What would Moses do?" The conversation centers around how Christians should read and use the Old Testament on this side of the cross. For a lot of churches, if the Old Testament is brought up at all, it becomes a series of biographies of godly men who become examples of how we should live. As Horton and company rightly show, the Old Testament is about the Christ to come, and every story, every character really needs to be viewed in the redemptive-historical mindset. David is not much of an example for us to live by viewed in a vacuum, but seen in the context of the coming of Christ it makes more sense. The endless sacrifices and laws in the tabernacle and temple all seem boring and futile, until viewed through the eyes of the Jew who sees the risen Christ and knows who He really is.
The other is from the Albert Mohler show, and he and guest Russel Moore discuss how incompatible evolution is with Christianity, "Two Irreconcilable Worldviews". It is not just about the creation account. It is about the nature of God. Is He a God who is sovereign, in control of all things and the idea that He did or had to use evolutionary means to achieve His will degrades His revealed nature. It is a good show, even though he spends a bunch of time glorying in the beagle that won Westminster! More on evolution is coming...

A dictator retires

The thug turned "President" of Cuba, Fidel Castro, announced that he was stepping down from power today.

Castro has been in power, controlling Cuba with an iron fist, for my entire life and then some, almost 50 years.

My wife asked an interesting question. Since communism is all about the worker, does that mean that Castro will retire to some communal retirement home? Will he have to squeak by on a government pension like every other retired person in communist Cuba? I am sure that is the case, after all in communism it would be unseemly for someone (even a hero of the revolution) to be given preferential treatment.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The new president of the mormon church

80 year old Thomas Monson has been named the new President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, replacing the recently deceased Gordon B. Hinckley. Called as an "apostle" at age 36, Monson has served for 44 years as one of the highest authorities in the mormon church. Monson continues the tradition of Gordon Hinckley who spent most of his adult life in the employment of the church. Both Hinckley and Monson assumed control of the mormon church in their 80's, and Monson has been waiting a long time to become president of the mormon church. It will be interesting to see how Monson serves compared to Hinckley. Hinckley always gave out this image of being a genteel old gentleman, a kindly grandfather. Monson strikes me as less telegenic, so I am curious to see how open with the media Monson is. Hinckley was very active with the media, although he was less than honest about mormon beliefs when he was pressed about them. Hinckley's legacy was the explosion in the number of temples around the world, including the McTemples in areas with smaller mormon populations. I wonder what Monson's will be?

Friday, February 15, 2008

When is it murder, when is it a choice?

One of the leading news stories today is the conviction of one Bobby Cutts Jr., a former police officer in Ohio. Mr. Cutts was found guilty of two murders, one of his girlfriend and one of her unborn child...

CANTON, Ohio — A former police officer who tearfully told jurors he accidentally killed his pregnant lover was convicted Friday of murdering her and their unborn child.

Bobby Cutts Jr. could face the death penalty. He had claimed he accidentally killed Jessie Davis by putting an elbow to her throat, then panicked.

Cutts, 30, was convicted of aggravated murder in the death of the nearly full-term female fetus, which carries the possible death penalty. Jurors will return later this month to weigh a sentencing recommendation.

The jury found him not guilty of aggravated murder in Davis' death, a count that includes intent to kill with prior calculation. But they convicted him of a lesser charge of murder in her death.

Here is a silly question. Why is it that this man is being convicted of aggravated murder for the killing of an unborn child, yet the mother of that child could walk into an abortion clinic and have that baby murdered and be protected by the law? What is the difference? Because in one case it is a guy killing the baby and in the other it is the mother? Don't get me wrong, I think he should be convicted of murder for killing that child, but does anyone else see the hypocrisy in a legal system where one parent can be convicted of murdering an unborn child and the other can have that child murdered by a stranger and have it be completely legal? It can't be both ways. An unborn child is either a person, legally protected under the law, or not. If it is murder to kill an unborn child under some circusmstances, it ought to be murder under any circumstances.

The priesthood lineage

The mormon church holds that the "priesthood" was lost after the death of the last of the original apostles and in large part because of the loss of the priesthood, the church fell into apostasy until it was restored to Joseph Smith in 1829, and then passed on by the laying on of hands up to modern days. It is one of the major tenets of mormonism that the prophets of the church hold the keys of priesthood authority and as such have exclusive authority to speak on mattters of doctrine in our days. You can read the mormon official version of these events here.

In our mormon days I was bestowed this priesthood and given a lineage showing the trail from Jesus Christ to the apostles to Joseph Smith to Brigham Young and so on, until we see Peter Kilger from New Hampshire granting that same priesthood held by Peter, James and John to me. The top image is that lineage. The whole letter is below...this priesthood was stripped from me, along with all of the blessings that accompany it when I requested my name be removed from the membership list of the mormon church. I need to track that letter down and post it online as well.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Does the Bible mandate homeschooling?

That is the question asked by Nathan Busenitz at the Pulpit Magazine blog. The question is a dodge, a distraction because it is the wrong question. The question is not does the Bible mandate home school? The question ought to be: should a Christian send their child to a secular school where God is mocked and if not, what are the other options?

Does the Bible specifically mandate homeschooling? Not explicitly no. You won't find a verse that says "Thou shalt educate thy child at home". But that doesn't mean that we are left without any guidance in raising our children.

Which seems the more God-honoring choice? To send our children to a bureaucratized public school, where God is forbidden and Biblical teaching is not only absent but opposed? Or to teach our children at home where God is worshipped and the teaching is all done in the light of Biblical teaching?It seems like a no-brainer for the Christian parent. Read the Bible and see what it says about honoring God in our lives, in the raising of children, in being a part of society.

Homeschool is not a viable option for every family, I get that. Some homes are single-parent, some have both parents working full-time. Not every Christian can homeschool their children, but that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be the preferred option. But at the risk of being combatitive, too many parents ship Suzie and Johnny off to public school because the world tells them to and quite frankly because it is a lot more convenient and easy. Homeschooling is hard, time consuming, often frustrating. It is little wonder that so many Christians choose to send their kids on the bus for eight hours a day, but is that really what God would have us do?

Having said all of that, there is a danger among homeschoolers to look down our noses at those who send their kids to public school. Our reaction should be one of loving admonition, support, prayer and education. We are not "more Christian" because we home school, and our words to those who don't homeschool should be tempered with love and grace.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Irony Alert!

As part of Black History Month, Brigham Young University posted an article about a 1950's era travel guides that allowed black travellers to plan their trip around restaurants, gas stations and hotels that would serve black travellers.

Black family vacations in the 1950s: An untold story

While the fight against segregation on public buses remains a civil rights symbol, a Brigham Young University historian shows how the struggles of black families vacationing by car contributed to the push for equal access to public accommodations.

In an upcoming book titled “Are We There Yet?” Professor Susan Rugh draws upon complaints written by a rising black middle class during the 1950s. These letter-writers documented discrimination on the part of hotels, restaurants, and gas stations around the country.

Rugh shows how their stories, submitted to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, became a bridge between elected officials and civil rights advocates.

Those who pushed the Civil Rights Act forward used such images of the vacationing family having to sleep in their car after being turned away by hotel managers,” Rugh said. “They were trying to appeal to senators who took vacations with their families. This was supposedly the Golden Age of American family vacations, but it was not so for black families.”

What is ironic is that the same feelings of rejection and being turned away would have greeted black mormons in the 1950's if they had tried to enter a mormon temple. Mormonism institutionalized racism towards blacks for around 150 years. For a quick overview of mormon racial attitudes, see Quiet Misgivings About LDS Racism on Mormon Coffee or visit the Utah Lighthouse Ministry webpage and it's section on racism in mormonism. For the first 150 years of mormon history, blacks were welcome to join the church but were denied the "priesthood" and therefore the highest levels of exaltation in mormonism. The reason were varied and vile, but boiled down to black skin being the mark of the curse upon Cain and his descendents, i.e. people with black skin. Making nice and having multi-cultural events on a campus named after Brigham Young really isn't fooling anyone, especially when Brigham Young celebrated black history month with this little gem: Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so. I am guessing that quote will not make the campus flyers for multi-cultural awareness week.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Our journey out of mormonism: Saved by His sovereign grace

Our journey out of mormonism: Saved by His sovereign grace

I have long felt compelled to put down my thoughts and our experiences as we found ourselves first investigators, and then members and finally apostates of the mormon religion, and how God’s gracious hand was ever-present along the way. At the time when we left mormonism, we initially felt lost and confused. How could everything we knew to be true suddenly be shown conclusively to be false, how could God have allowed us to be taken in by a lie all those years? But as the years have passed, more and more we have recognized the hand of God even as we were deepest in mormonism.

Neither my wife nor I grew up in what would generally be considered a “Christian home”. Our homes were good homes to grow up, for different reasons, but faith was not a priority. Eva was a “good” Catholic growing up, weekly going to Mass, completing catechism on Mondays, serving as an altar girl. In her teens she really began seeking the face of God, with a growing desire to know Him more, a desire I did everything I could to quash as a youth. A Baptist friend at work really tried to share the Gospel with Eva, and we still own that white King James Bible that she gave her. My home was agnostic at best, and in my youth I wore my atheism like a badge, assured that my own intelligence was adequate to explain anything. Religion for me was a means to control weaker minded people, rubes who needed a crutch to get through the day (to paraphrase that great philosopher Jesse “The Body” Ventura!). My first exposure to church came when Eva and I were married and we went through the pre-marriage classes mandated by the Roman Catholic church where we were wed. I am afraid that I came out of that experience with an even lower opinion of religion and religious people than I harbored before (which is saying quite a lot!)

In my college years, we had the first two of our eight children and that experience of holding a tiny child, a new life had a profound impact on my thinking. No longer did I assume, could I assume, that life was just a random act explainable away by science and reason. In my last few semesters at Bowling Green State University, I took two courses that gave me my first exposure to the Word of God, an English course “The Bible as Literature” and a history class on the New Testament. Both were completely secular classes and neither approached the Bible as the literal Word of God. In fact in my literature class the instructor was a more than slightly kooky former Roman priest, who needless to say didn’t have a high view of the Bible. In the months leading up to graduation, as I sought employment, I was offered a management position with a retailer in Cheyenne, Wyoming. As we prepared to move “Out West” after graduation, we got advice from quite a few people to find a church when we settled in to give us a sense of community. A few months after arriving in Cheyenne, my wife called me at work to let me know we had company coming over, a couple of missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Now, being relatively ignorant of all things religious I knew very little about the mormons. I knew that they were highly regarded as being industrious, faithful, family oriented, conservative folks. I knew about the prohibition on drinking and of course the ever present issue of polygamy, but that was about it. Like so many people who are ensnared by false teachings, I didn’t know what the truth was and so was unable to recognize a lie for what it was.

The two missionaries who came over that night were great guys, Noah McDaniel and Henk Fisher. They were polite and patient. The first night they came we got a lesson in how not to deal with mormons and other cultists. The maintenance guy who lived in our apartment saw the missionaries coming in, got in their faces and threatened to call the police. Right away, we were given two contrasting images: the nice, clean-cut mormons and the angry, intolerant Christian. The two missionaries hit it off with us right away, they were a lot more relaxed than most missionaries we would meet in the years that followed. They were earnest but not self-righteous, and they presented the message of mormonism as well as anyone I have ever seen. We still have some of the hand drawn diagrams they used to illustrate their points. We were like sponges, and having virtually no knowledge of the Bible, we didn’t know where to question what we were being told. After completing the investigators lessons, we decided to get baptized as members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In November of 1995, around Thanksgiving, we were both baptized and began attending as regularly as my schedule working in retail permitted. Noah McDaniel and Henk Fisher eventually moved on to new assignments, but our fondness for missionaries would remain for the rest of our time in mormonism. We even named our fourth child Noah, after Noah McDaniel.

Life in mormonism was kind of a blur for the first year. We moved back home to Ohio shortly after converting, and then to Auburn Hills, Michigan. We never really got as connected as we should have. It took way longer than normal for me to receive Melchizedek priesthood as an adult male. Because we moved around so much, it was more than a year before we really got hooked in. In Ohio, we lived on the East side of Toledo and the ward was pretty far away in an affluent part of town and we never were really comfortable there. Just the opposite was true when we lived in Michigan, the church was pretty small in the area, so rather than a full ward we were part of the Pontiac branch. We met in a non-church owned building, and the group was pretty small. Pontiac is a pretty rough town, and again working in retail we didn’t make it very often to church. The one constant was that we had the missionaries over on a regular basis, and they formed the main connection with the church at that time. It wasn’t until we moved to New Hampshire that we really got comfortable in the church. In New Hampshire, I went from retail to working at Fidelity Investment, my first Monday through Friday job, and because Fidelity had relocated a number of employees from Salt Lake City I worked with and knew a lot of other mormons. We shared a corporate culture as well as a church culture, and I felt more involved in the goings on because our local Bishop was a mid-level manager at Fidelity. We still had the missionaries over for dinner all the time, and I began going out and accompanying them on home visits. We liked it a lot better in New Hampshire, when we joined in Wyoming most of the people were very intimidating. Keeping up with the Mormon Joneses was hard, and it seemed like we would never be able to live up to the standards of righteousness that was in our faces all the time. In New Hampshire it was different, we were friends with lots of other mormons, we really got into the new member classes (over a year after we were baptized). We made a few really good friends, people we and our kids hung out with even outside of church. It was after a few years in New Hampshire that we finally went to the temple. More on that later, as that whole experience deserves separate treatment. Life was good church-wise in New Hampshire, but it was so incredibly expensive to live in New England that we decided to move back to the Midwest, and I ended up with an ill-fated and short lived job in Wisconsin.

After a short stay in Wisconsin, we moved to Northern Kentucky and back to Fidelity Investments. Like every move, the first contact we made was with the local mormon church. They helped you move in, get acclimated to the area and get integrated into the local church. Moving is jarring, and by keeping in touch every step of the way, the mormon church ensures that people don’t stray or fall away when they change wards. In Northern Kentucky, we settled back into church. As usual, the missionaries were very important to us. We had them over at least once a week, often times several nights a week to feed them. I went out with them almost every week on visits and to drive them around, since they covered a pretty big geographical area and had limited mileage on their car. It was during this time that I was called as a membership clerk in the Bishopric. That is a pretty minor calling, but it gave me insight into the inner workings of the local church leadership as I attended most of the Bishopric meetings. It was a rude awakening how people were called into their church callings, the process being a lot more pragmatic than inspired. It was also disturbing how many people who were listed as members never attended and of those how many either wanted no contact with the church or were outright hostile towards it. Most mormons outside of the bishopric would be shocked to learn what a high percentage of “members” are openly hostile toward the church that claims them as members. It is true of many Christian churches that members on the rolls often are not attenders, but you don’t see the same level of hostility towards the institution.

Life was pretty well set, laid out in front of us for the rest of our days. Raise our children up, send them to BYU and on their missions, retire and perhaps become retiree missionaries for the church. Our kids would marry other mormons, and raise good mormon kids. We were in a very comfortable groove, temple worthy mormons fulfilling our callings and generally doing what good mormons were supposed to do. We had it all figured out.

But that was not what God had planned for us…

As I look back, the beginning of the real questions came when we finally went to the temple. After a few false starts in New Hampshire, including a whole cancellation of a trip (it was a big deal, this was before the Boston temple, so the nearest temple was in Washington, D.C. a trip of some 450 miles), we finally completed the temple preparation classes and made the journey to the D.C. temple in February of 2000 with our four oldest children. The trip itself was exhausting, driving through the night, stopping to sleep for a few hours in Delaware. I still remember the stench of the garbage barges in New Jersey! We stayed with my sister who lives in the area, and went in early with some people from church who were also co-workers of mine at Fidelity. The day is kind of a blur, but some things stand out for us. As we sat in a brief meeting, a greeting from the temple president, I remember looking out in the hallway and seeing guys in all white walking by with funny hats on. We thought they were chefs, because no one told us what to expect. The whole lead-up is pretty mysterious, you know very little of what is to go one in the temple before you go (and for good reason, as the whole thing is pretty freaky!) As we went through the ceremonies, including the “take of your clothes and put on this sheet so an old guy can dab oil on you” part, it became increasingly weird. This was the high point of mormonism? This is what we had looked forward to for all of that time? The only thing that redeemed the trio at all was as we were entering the room to watch the video and take out our endowments, we walked past a young couple. I thought he looked familiar and sure enough it was Noah McDaniel, one of the missionaries who had baptized us and that we hadn’t talked to since. We were able to catch up with him later and introduce to the little blonde boy who we named after him. If we had not met up with Noah and his wife, I am not sure what we would have done afterward as we were more than a little freaked out. We got our new temple names, Heber for me and Lydia for Eva (sharing those names is a big deal, as that is highly secretive. Eva never knew my temple name until some time after we left mormonism. I knew hers of course so I could call her through the veil and she wouldn’t get left outside of the celestial kingdom. But I digress…) We learned the secret handshakes, watched the cheesy video, spoke the sacred oaths and acted out calling our wives through the veil and entered the celestial room. That was hardly the pinnacle of spirituality on earth, we were mostly just tired and feeling anything BUT close to God. Finally we went to the sealing room, with it’s altar and double mirrors to give the image of eternity. By that time we were exhausted, and for me the sealing ceremony where we were joined as a family for time and eternity was just annoying. Noah wouldn’t behave (a sign of things to come!), and it was for me a pretty non-spiritual event, in fact anticlimactic might be the best way to describe it. It is hard to take things seriously wearing a goofy get-up like that. We drove away with our packet of stuff, including the obligatory temple certificate and picture of the temple and I remember looking at each other, sworn not to speak of the events of the temple but with a clear question in each of our eyes: “What the heck was that!”. Mormons are encouraged to go back early and often to the temple, I believe to lessen the strangeness of it all through familiarity. But although we carried our temple recommends until the day I mailed them back to our local Bishop and we always spoke highly of the temple, we never went into a temple again. The temple to me was hardly this little slice of heaven on earth. They are beautiful on the outside but what goes on inside is not the work of Christ, but the work of the Devil. It brings to mind what Christ said about the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:27: “"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.”. Beautiful and clean on the outside, but full of spiritual death on the inside is an apt description of the mormon temple.

In the summer of 2001, our oldest daughter was turning eight, the age when most mormon children are baptized into the church. We had it all planned out, she had been in to meet with the Bishop to make sure she understood what was going on and was “worthy”, we had special dispensation to baptize her in Northern Michigan. Things were proceeding as they were supposed to. I remember distinctly that at that time I was reading that old mormon faith affirming standby, The Work and the Glory series. It was designed to reaffirm your faith, while giving you a sanitized history of the church that was also faith affirming, but it didn’t have that impact on me. The more I read, the more I started to realize how poorly the Book of Mormon was written, and that when I was the same age as Joseph Smith, I could have crafted a similar tale. One afternoon, after reading I knelt down to pray. I never imagined what would happen after my knees hit the ground.

It was very sudden. I knelt down as a mormon, and when I stood up I no longer was. It wasn’t because I was offended by someone in the church. It wasn’t because I had an un-confessed sin in my life. It wasn’t because I had fallen under the influence of apostates or read anti-mormon material. I can only attribute it to God breaking my heart, breaking the pride that made me think that I could be saved through my own righteousness, that by obedience and works I could become like God Himself, either dragging Him down to me or lifting myself to His level. Semantics in mormonism suggest that we never become the equal of our Heavenly Father, but the reality is that mormonism teaches that God was once a human, no different than us, and that He became a god and by following the tenets of mormonism we could do the same and become like Him. I was not looking to get out, I was not seeking Him. He came seeking me. The Great Shepherd who searches for one lost sheep found one, kneeling down next to his bed in Kentucky, worshipping the image of a false god. If there was ever a more unlikely candidate to be saved than me, I can’t imagine who that person might be. Maybe Saul. Like Saul I sought to persecute Him by spreading lies about Him and seeking to lead people away from Him, and like Saul I thought I was doing His work because I was so earnest about it. I see no similarities between myself and Paul, post-Damascus Road conversion but I see a lot of similarities between myself and Saul the persecutor of the church. In that moment I knew a few things. I knew that no matter how hard I had tried to convince myself, the Book of Mormon was not Scripture, that it was not the Word of God. Joseph Smith was a shyster and a liar, and had made up the whole thing. And I knew that I would never again worship a false god in a mormon church.

I walked into the living room and told Eva I didn’t want to baptize Caitlin. At first she assumed that I meant that I didn’t want to do it myself, but then she came to realize that I meant not that I didn’t want to baptize Caitlin but instead that I didn’t want Caitlin to be baptized as a mormon at all. Things started happening pretty quickly. The missionaries came over, and I had a curt but cordial conversation with them. We got an anonymous letter in the mail that I kept, along with a book warning us about staying clear of those evil anti-mormons like Sandra Tanner and that apostate mormons are one of the few categories of people who go to hell in mormon theology (murderers are the other group). The local Bishop called Eva when he knew I would be at work, and I recall leaving him a fairly ugly message telling him to not call my house anymore. It was about that point that I started to read “anti” mormon material, and what I read was stunning and confirmed what I had come to believe about mormonism. The changes and inconsistencies in the story of the “First Vision” and the Book of Mormon, the fact that Joseph Smith was hoodwinked into buying Egyptian documents and then “translating” them into what is now known as the Book of Abraham which contains much of what makes up distinctive mormon theology. That “translation” has now been shown categorical to be false, and laughably so. As I read the Bible without looking at it through the lens of mormonism, I began to see how deviant mormonism is from Biblical Christianity. Rather than regretting my decision to leave, I began to praise God for saving me from a lie and from myself.

One momentous (for me) occasion still sticks out in my mind right after we left. A young woman I worked with had a boyfriend who was a lapsed mormon, and she knew that we were mormons so when I told her we left mormonism, she challenged me to get a cup of coffee and then wanted to watch me drink it! It was a liberating moment for me, that first cup of coffee and I have been making up for lost (coffee) time ever since. Another time that I remember was a business trip back to Massachusetts. I had lunch with a couple of buddies from my old job, one a mormon and one a Catholic who knew I had left. My Catholic friend asked how things are going since we left mormonism, and the look of horror on my mormon friend’s face was telling. He later emailed me and said something pretty typical, in talking to some other mormons who knew me the assumption was that someone had offended us. It had to be something like that, right? For mormons it is, because the alternative that someone had earnestly come to the conclusion that mormonism is false topples the whole house of cards. I rarely heard from him after that and finally not at all.

It was a hard time in our marriage. When I stood up from my knees that day, I was done. I was utterly convinced that mormonism was a lie, and I walked and never looked back. It was much harder on my wife. Eva went with me at first because of her loyalty to me, but for years afterwards still clung to many of the positives of mormonism. As her husband, the one called to be the spiritual head of the family I had let her down and let us be led astray (not the first and certainly not the last time that I failed in my role as husband). Those who were out friends stopped speaking to us, shunning us in fact as apostates. A particular event stands out in my mind shortly after we left mormonism. One of our favorite missionaries, David Card, came over after we left, along with two other missionaries. We had a nice dinner and then they started looking at my Book of Mormon and all the pages I had tabbed with various inconsistencies and heresies. Rather than confidently refuting what we had come to believe as they planned, they retreated back into the “I have a testimony” defense. I could see in their eyes as they were backed into corners that they were shutting down, and eventually they completely shut me out. I always took offense at mormonism being called a cult, but when we left the actions of other mormons, and especially those missionaries that night, showed me pretty clearly that so much of the way mormons structure their church is designed to work like cults do: shunning apostates, quashing dissent, discouraging investigating, reliance on a modern prophetic voice.

The whole event solidifies for me the sovereign grace of God. I was not seeking Him, in fact I was quite sure that I was already in His church and doing His will. I suspect that is true of virtually everyone who comes to Christ. In our natural state, we are not seeking Him. Ask the average unbeliever, at least those who are not militant atheists, and chances are that they are in another faith tradition and believe they are following God or are relying on good works (I am living well, I am generally a good person, etc.) for their salvation. We want to have a hand in our salvation. Mormonism takes that to another level: not only can you help to save yourself by your works, if you work diligently and faithfully enough you can become a god too! But in spite of my arrogance and blasphemy of assuming that God was merely a partner in my salvation and that I would one day climb to godhood myself, God worked that miracle that only He can do, quickening my dead sinners heart through the power of the Holy Spirit. If He had not worked in my heart, I would likely have stayed in mormonism and be as lost as the most vitriolic atheist. Therefore all the praise and glory for my salvation belongs with Him, and Him alone, and that is the way it should be.

UPDATE: I have started recording my thoughts about mormonism on a different blog, The Fo-Mo Chronicles. I encourage interested readers to check it out.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Give me that Old Time Religion.... it good enough for you?

"Then you shall bring the bull before the tent of meeting. Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the bull. Then you shall kill the bull before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and shall take part of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and the rest of the blood you shall pour out at the base of the altar. And you shall take all the fat that covers the entrails, and the long lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, and burn them on the altar. But the flesh of the bull and its skin and its dung you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering. "Then you shall take one of the rams, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram and shall take its blood and throw it against the sides of the altar. Then you shall cut the ram into pieces, and wash its entrails and its legs, and put them with its pieces and its head, and burn the whole ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the LORD. It is a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the LORD. "You shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram and take part of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the sides of the altar. Then you shall take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons and his sons' garments with him. He and his garments shall be holy, and his sons and his sons' garments with him. (Exodus 29: 10-21 ESV)

Eew! When is that last time you heard that Scripture quoted from the pulpit! We came across that passage as part of our daily Bible reading, and it brought to mind how sanitized we have made our society and our church.

We live in a day when you food comes to us sanitary, shrink wrapped and prepackaged. No one wants to know where it comes from or how it got in the meat case. The old quote, attributed to Otto von Bismarck, holds true: If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made. The manliest barbeque warrior would probably pass out after five minutes in a slaughterhouse. But that chicken, beef and pork doesn't magically appear on a foam tray covered with plastic wrap, it once was clucking, mooing or oinking.

First sign of a sniffle and we truck the kids off to the doctor, and it seems no matter how minor the illness, the kid is getting a prescription. So much for chicken soup and rest. Every illness requires an antibiotic, everyone slathers themselves with hand sanitizer in a quest to ensure every germ is avoided. If you could sell a hermetically sealed body suit, people would snap them up to ensure that little Johnny and Susie would never have a fever or runny nose.

His church is no different. Everything is neat and tidy, everyone is nice. In place of anguished David and humbled Paul, we have Larry the Tomato. You are nice, God is nice, let's all be nice to each other. We follow a carefully crafted pattern, even those of us who pride ourselves on not being liturgical (try rearranging the order of service in a Baptist church and see how non-Liturgical we are!). We wear our nicest clothes, we are on our best behavior, we dutifully file in and file out. Christianity is safe and sanitary in America.

We read the passages (if we read them at all) about animal sacrifice and think: well that was Old Testament, and yeah it seems barbaric now but we have Jesus and all of that old, gross stuff has gone away. But the truth of the genesis of our faith tells a different tale. Ours is a faith that had it's birth on a cross, in the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ. Nails through His hands, the marks from the scourge on His back and the wound from the soldiers spear in His side. Before there could be an empty tomb and the joyous declaration "He is not here, He is risen!", there had to be a death and it was not a clean, dignified death. He chose to come when society was at it's most barbaric, when His covenant nation had fallen away and at that moment in history He came, born in the humblest of circumstances, living a poor life and dying a criminals horrible death. But He did it all, He suffered it all for the sake of His sheep. That is love, that is grace, that He suffered a penalty He didn't deserve to spare those who so richly deserved that fate. It was not His crime that was being punished on the cross, it was the sin and disobedience of every Christian, it was because of our sin that God poured His wrath upon His Son and it was His sacrifice that paid the price, His blood that redeemed us, His suffering that brought us joy.

I certainly don't want to go back to the days of animal sacrifice and rivers of blood. Church attendance would certainly go way down if we did! But we sometimes need to be shaken, yanked out of our comfort zone. When we hear Paul speak of knowing nothing but Christ and Him crucified, it is not a hyopthetical but a real person on a real cross bleeding real blood. May we remember that the sanitized, safe services we enjoy commemorate a very dirty, bloody sacrifice. But from that dark day of blood sprang forth a new day of light, when never again would the blood of an animal need to be shed. He has done it all, once and completely.

I love this quote!

From H. Richard Niebuhr, quoted on Reformation Theology regarding liberalism:

"a God without wrath, brought men without sin, into a kingdom without judgment, through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross."

Like it says on Reformation Theology, what once described liberalism now holds true for the vast majority of what passes for evangelicalism, to our shame.

The Fruits of False Prophets

Joseph Smith and David Koresh: Two very similar men seperated by 150 years.

A comparison that has interested me for some time is the eerie relationship between mormon founder Joseph Smith and Branch Davidian David Koresh. America has long been a breeding ground for cults and megalomaniac religious leaders. One of the hallmarks of American society is the open and free expression of religion, and that freedom has led to both wonderful fruit and at the same time cults and heretical movements. All cult leaders have common features, but Smith and Koresh really interest me, in part because of my former life in mormonism and a clear recollection of Waco, and also because they seem so much more similar than other cult group leaders. I am certainly not the first person to note this comparison, The Watchman Expositor addressed this very topic years ago, and while it is pretty brief, it does describe a good overview of the similarities between these two self-proclaimed "prophets"

Claims to a prophetic mantle

Both Smith and Koresh claimed to have unique status as a prophet, with a status that is normally reserved for Biblical prophets. They used their forceful personalities and personal charisma to attract followers into their cults by appealing to their general disaffection with existing churches. Both men cultivated an "us versus them", true believer versus apostate dichotomy that further cemented their followers dependence on them. Like all cults, anyone who questioned the cult or it's leader was a threat and was to be shunned. Both cult leaders sought to place themselves between their followers and the rest of the world, and that division led to many of their deaths.

Sexual preoccupation and polygamy

Another common thread is the use of their prophetic authority to engage in polygamy. Smith and several of his successors were notorious for the polygamous practices, in Smith's case with as many as a dozen (or more) other women, including teens as young as 14. Koresh is described as: "never thought above his belt buckle", and was "married" to as many as 19 women. Like Smith, it is reported that Koresh had relations with young girls, at least one of which was only 12 years old. I am not sure if they both used the idea of being a prophet as a way to obtain women or if it developed afterwards.

Obsession with martyrdom
It is no coincidence that both men saw their lives end in bloodshed. They both had an apparent obsession with being martyrs, Smith showing up at a jail where he knew he was likely to be at least roughed up by mobs and Koresh engaging in a gun battle with the Feds that was going to end up with his people dead. Koresh could have ended the standoff at any time by surrendering but instead chose death in a fiery conflagration.

Paranoia toward the government and outsiders leading to isolation

The Branch Davidians, living when they did, could not form a whole community like Nauvoo but their isolated compound in Waco was as close as you could get. With limited contact and complete reliance on Koresh, it became easier to cultivate a paranoia toward the government. Smith went even further, creating in Nauvoo, IL his own city with it's own militia force and Smith declaring himself to be a "general". For both men, isolation from the general society allowed them to control their followers and practice polygamy relatively unopposed.

Had Joseph Smith lived in modern times, he very well could have turned out like Koresh and had Koresh been born 150 years earlier, I could very easily see him starting a movement similar to mormonism. Both men put themselves before their followers, used them and led many to an early death. False teachers and prophets will always be with us, which is why staying grounded in the Word is so important.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Grace and works

And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray (Matthew 24:11 ESV)

There is an interesting thread on Mormon Coffee, the blog page of the Mormonism Research Ministry (a great ministry by the way!). The question has turned in part to the relationship between grace and works. More specifically, is grace alone sufficient with works as a result or is grace dependent on the obedience to works of the law to save? The mormon position is that faith alone is insufficient to save (keeping in mind that mormons have degress of salvation, it is not a heaven or hell duality but rather a gradient with some people getting a mediocre heaven, others a better heaven, mormons a great heaven and faithful mormon men get to become gods. But I digress). The Christian position is that not only do works not save you, but reliance on and pride in your own good works is an impediment to salvation. The Christian life is one of surrender, of bowing the knee and declaring our own helplessness, of calling on and turning to Christ and Him alone to save us. This is not intended to be an authoritative declaration on the sufficiency of the Cross, but rather it is designed to spur discussion of the relationship between grace and works, specifically do works add to salvation or do works result from salvation?

First, let's look at a few of the common Scriptural objections to justification by faith alone, sola fide. What of the seeming commandment towards perfection in Matthew 5:48 "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."? Doesn't that mean that we need to perfect ourselves, or at least strive towards perfection to be saved? Well not really. That isn't really much of a hurdle, unless you can find me a perfect person. So, the question comes up, the Bible is commanding to do something that the Bible also tells us it is impossible to do? Quite right! God is not here to be fair, He is not fair but rather He is just. His law reflects His nature, and as such requires perfection. Our sin has caused us to be at enmity with God, yet it is God who saves us.

There are a number of Scriptures that point to the fact that it is impossible for men to save themselves, or even assist with salvation and that only through Christ alone can a sinner be reconciled to God. If there is one theme that addresses this throughout the New Testament, it is summarized in the idea that when it comes to salvation with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. The disciples, trying to figure out what they had to do to be saved finally asked in exasperation how in the world could anyone be saved, and Christ gave this wonderful, humbling answer: When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:25-26 ESV) The Bible commands perfection, which is indeed impossible with man. If there were no way to be saved because of an impossible standard that would indeed be unfair and more importantly be unjust. But in the person and work of Christ, in His perfect obedience and the faith of His sheep in Him, His righteousness and perfection is imputed to the sinner, the great exchange of my sin for His righteousness.

What of then that old bastion of works based salvation, the Book of James? This is where the "grace plus works" crowd always turns, plucking a few verses out of context and declaring victory without a valid examination of the comprehensive Biblical message.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2: 14-18 ESV)

Case closed, right? Well slow down a minute, what is James saying here? What the message is, I believe, is one of self-examination. There is all sorts of faith out in the world. Muslims have a very strong faith, the kind of faith that causes some of them to beat themselves bloody with chains, send mentally retarded people into markets and blow them up by remote control and fly airplanes full of innocent people into buildings full of innocent people. Secular humanists have faith in themselves. Pagans have faith in all manner of gods and goddesses. But those sorts of faith do not save. It is the faith in the risen Christ, a faith that comes from being regenerated into a new creation by the power of the Holy Spirit, a faith that results in the performance of good works because of the change of heart wrought by God that saves. A dead declaration of faith, one that allows you to ignore the plight of your brother, is not Christian faith, it is not a living, saving faith. We ought to examine our faith to ensure that it is genuine faith in Christ, especially given a world of easy believism and decisional regeneration that we live in.

What is at issue here is a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature and scope of sin, not just among mormons but also among many Christians. Far too many people look at sin like this. Action A is a sin, action B is a good work, so if I avoid doing A and concentrate on doing B I will be OK. As long as the teeter-totter has more good works than sins, you get into heaven. But sin is not, and never has been, an issue of particular acts that must be avoided to be justified. Rather our sin is an issue of a state of being, of a human nature. Scripture is replete with references to the sinfulness of man. Of all the five points of Calvinism, the one that is the easiest to prove from Scripture is the first one, the total depravity of man.

So how then can we ever be saved? It is pretty easy to point out man's sin, but what of salvation? How can a wicked, depraved sinner ever hope to please and be reconcilled to a holy God? There is a Latin saying attributed to Martin Luther that captures the strange union, Christians are: simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously just and sinner). We are, at once, both a sinner and justified. Jesus didn't need to die to be perfected, He was already perfect. He gained no holiness, no righteousness on earth that added to his nature. So why did He come? Paul puts in succinctly and best in this declaration: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Jesus came to save His sheep by laying down His life for them. His death on the cross served one purpose, to fulfill all righteousness and form the basis of salvation for His people: faith in Christ, and Christ alone, for justification.

When you seek to add your own works to grace, you stand up and say to Christ that His death on the cross was helpful but ultimately insufficient. His sacrifice made salvation possible for all people (ignoring the Biblical doctrine of election), but it was because of your own righteousness that you were saved. That guy over there is not wise enough, not holy enough, not worthy enough or hasn't worked hard enough on their own to be saved. It is the ultimate in arrogance, an arrogance that says that Jesus is not your Lord, not your Savior but instead your partner in your salvation. That arrogance brings to mind a parable told by our Lord:

"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18: 10-14 ESV)

Don't let yourself be the Pharisee who relies on his own righteousness. Rely on Christ and His righteousness, for that is in the end your only hope.
Romney Drops Out

In a somewhat surprising move, at least this quickly, Mitt Romney has dropped out of the race to be the Republican nominee. It was a pretty classy exit statement:

Mitt Romney suspended his presidential campaign Thursday, telling a stunned conservative group that continuing his uphill battle against John McCain would hurt the Republican Party and make it more likely that the Democratic candidate would win the general election in November.

“If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention … I’d forestall the launch of a national campaign and frankly I’d be making make it easier for Senator Clinton or Obama to win,” Romney told the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Frankly, in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.”

As early as yesterday, the Romney campaign was drafting a road map to winning the nomination, despite trailing McCain badly in the race for delegates. But according to a campaign spokesman, Romney decided to drop out as he was writing the CPAC speech late Wednesday.

“This isn’t an easy decision. I hate to lose,” Romney said Thursday, as many in the crowd booed the decision. “If this were only about me, I’d go on, but it’s never been only about me. I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America in this time of war, I feel I have to now stand aside, for our party and for our country.”

I assume Huckabee will follow shortly, and the party can begin to rally around McCain. Time for the Rush Limbaugh/Ann Coulter cabal to swallow their pride, keep McCain honest from a conservative standpoint but quit bellyaching and threatening to support Hillary or stay home. Romney was very gracious in defeat and bowing out, his supporters should take their cue from his actions and support the nominee. Not everyone is being gracious about it though:

Evangelical leader Pat Robertson told FOX News Radio Thursday morning that he and other evangelicals would not support McCain, citing his temper.

Robertson referenced a Wall Street Journal article describing him as a “capped live volcano,” adding: “You never know when he’s going to explode … If you’ve got a guy who’s the commander in chief with his hand on the red button, I just don’t know, I wouldn’t like to be in WWIII, and I just have a feeling he wants to show how macho he is and we might just get ourselves in something we don’t want.”

Uh, someone who called for the assassination of the leader of a foreign nation and has prophesied untold destruction on America is being critical of someone else for being intemperate and unstable? McCain may be a hothead, but he served this nation in war and spent years being tortured by the North Vietnamese. He knows far better than the vast majority of Americans, including Pat Robertson, what war is really like.

I hate to break it to you Pat, but you ceased to be relevant to Christians as a whole many, many years ago. I don't know of any Christian under the age of 60 who gives a rip what Pat Robertson says or thinks. He has become like the crazy old great uncle at family events that people tolerate because they are trying to be polite. He has no business and no right declaring who evangelicals will or will not support.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Images of Muhammad Cause Uproar

Apparently the Wikipedia page that covers Muhammad contains a couple of pictures (very old pictures) that depict Muhammad and for some reason are deemed offensive to Muslims. Fox News reports that some 100,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the offending images be removed...

Online encyclopedia Wikipedia has again stirred up controversy — this time over a biographical entry on the prophet Muhammad.

Nearly 100,000 people worldwide have signed a Web-based petition asking Wikipedia to remove all depictions of the Prophet from its English-language entry, viewable here.

"I request all brothers and sisters to sign this petitions so we can tell Wikipedia to respect the religion and remove the illustrations," the creator of the petition at The Petition Site asks.

One can be sure that offensive pictures of Christ that may appear on Wikipedia or anywhere else wouldn't be removed no matter how many people sign a petition. Offending Muslim sensibilities is absolutely forbidden, but taking shots at Christianity is not only permissable but encouraged and a sign of being open-minded and enlightened. Interesting and scary times we live in.