Thursday, April 29, 2010

Miriam, Mary and the Qur'an.

As you may know, Moses had a sister named Miriam. This is recorded all throughout the Old Testament, and is especially highlighted here:

The name of Amram's wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore to Amram: Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam.
(Numbers 26:59)

The children of Amram were Aaron, Moses and Miriam. And the sons of Aaron were Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
(1 Chronicles 6:3)

For those who are not yet aware, Miriam and Mary are actually the same name in Hebrew (מִרְיָם). This apparently has confused the author of the Qur'an, who wound up conflating the Old Testament Miriam with Mary, the mother of Jesus:

When a woman of Imran [note: this is more accurately translated as "the wife of Amram" (link)] said: My Lord! surely I vow to Thee what is in my womb, to be devoted (to Thy service); accept therefore from me, surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing. So when she brought forth, she said: My Lord! Surely I have brought it forth a female-- and Allah knew best what she brought forth-- and the male is not like the female, and I have named it Marium, and I commend her and her offspring into Thy protection from the accursed Shaitan.

And she came to her people with him, carrying him (with her). They said: O Marium! surely you have done a strange thing. sister of Haroun! your father was not a bad man, nor, was your mother an unchaste woman.

And Marium, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our inspiration and she accepted the truth of the words of her Lord and His books, and she was of, the obedient ones.

Interestingly, Sahih Muslim records Muhammad himself producing what remains the standard response to this day:

Mughira b. Shu'ba reported: When I came to Najran, they (the Christians of Najran) asked me: You read "O sister of Harun" (i.e. Hadrat Maryam) in the Qur'an, whereas Moses was born much before Jesus. When I came back to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) I asked him about that, whereupon he said: The (people of the old age) used to give names (to their persons) after the names of Apostles and pious persons who had gone before them.

The problem with Muhammad's explanation is that it is simply false. The practice that he states has never been the practice of any of the Jews or Christians (otherwise the Christians of Najran would have known about it).

Also, Abdullah Yusuf-Ali's footnote on surah 66:12 is rather telling. Yusuf-Ali says that, "Imran was traditionally the name of the father of Mary the mother of Jesus." The footnote on surah 19:28 in N.J. Dawood's translation is also rather interesting. In it, he states,

Muslim commentators deny the charge that there is confusion here between Miriam, Aaron's sister, and Maryam (Mary), mother of Jesus. 'Sister of Aaron', they argue, simply means 'virtuous woman' in this context.

And in fact, many commentaries on surah 19:28 make this exact argument, whether you consult Yusuf Ali or some other well-known commentary on the Qur'an. Anyway, for further reading, I recommend these two articles that go into more detail on the glaring errors that have occurred in the above given texts:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Is Muhammad Prophesied in the Bible?

I would say, "Yes he is, but not where you would expect him to be:"

Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.
(Matthew 24:11-12)

For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go out, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them.
(Matthew 24:24-26, also see Mark 13:22-23)

No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
(2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
(Galatians 1:8-9)

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
(1 John 4:1)

I am being tongue-in-cheek about this, of course. These passages refer to false prophets and false gospels in general, so they can refer to Muhammad, but can easily refer to Joseph Smith Jr., Ellen G. White and Charles Taze Russell as well. Now, for those who want a more serious answer to this question, Answering Islam has plenty of articles on this particular topic.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Contending for the Gospel

By John Calvin

...With the very same charge which we are now forced to hear, wicked Ahab once upbraided Elijah: that is, that he was the disturber of Israel. But the holy prophet by his reply acquitted us. "I," says he, "have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim," (1 Kings 18:17-18). It is unfair, therefore, to load us with odium, on account of the fierce contest concerning religion which this day rages in Christendom, unless, indeed, it be thought proper first to condemn Elijah, with whom we have a common defense. His sole excuse is, that he had fought only to vindicate the glory and restore the pure worship of God, and he retorts the charge of exciting contention and disturbances upon those who stirred up tumults as a means of resisting the truth.

And what is it that we have done hitherto, and what do we even now, but strive that the one God may be worshipped amongst us, and that his simple truth may reign in the church? If our adversaries deny this, let them, at least, convict us of impious doctrine before they charge it upon us, as a fault, that we dissent from others. For what were we to do? The only terms on which we could purchase peace were to betray the truth of God by silence. Though, indeed, it would not have been enough to be silent, unless we had also, by tacit consent, approved of impious doctrine, of open blasphemies against God, and the most degrading superstitions. What else, then, at the very least, could we do, than testify with a clear voice that we had no fellowship with impiety? We have, therefore, simply studied to do what was our duty. That matters have blazed forth into hostile strife is an evil, the blame of which must rest with those who chose to confound heaven and earth, rather than give a place to pious and sound doctrine their object being, by whatever means, to keep possession of the tyranny which they had usurped.

It ought to be sufficient, and more than sufficient, for our defense, that the sacred truth of God, in asserting which we sustain so many contests, is on our side, whereas our adversaries, in contending with us, war not so much against us as God himself. Then it is not of our own accord that we engage in this fervor of contention. It is their intemperance which has dragged us into it against our expectation. Let the result, then, have been what it may, there is no reason why we should be loaded with hatred. For as it is not ours to govern events, neither is it ours to prevent them. But there is an ancient practice which the wicked have resorted to in all ages: that is, to take occasion from the preaching of the gospel to excite tumult, and then to defame the gospel as the cause of dissension dissension which, even in the absence of opportunity, they wickedly and eagerly court. And, as in the primitive church, the prophecy behooved to be fulfillled, that Christ should be to his own countrymen a stone of stumbling and rock of offense, so it is not surprising if the same thing holds true in our time also. It may well indeed be thought strange for the builders to reject the stone which ought to occupy the principal place in the foundation, but as this happened at the beginning, in the case of Christ, let it not surprise us that it is also a common event in the present day....

...In such circumstances, what became of the salvation of men? Where there was such necessity for speaking, had we kept silence, we should have been not only ungrateful and treacherous towards God, but also cruel towards men, over whom we saw eternal destruction impending, unless they were brought back into the proper path.

Were a dog to see an injury offered to his master, equal to the insult which is offered to God in the sacraments, he would instantly bark, and expose his own life to danger, sooner than silently allow his master to be so insulted. Ought we to show less devotedness to God than a brute is wont to show to man?...

Christ with a whip drove the money-changers out of the temple, threw down their tables, and scattered their merchandise. I admit it is not lawful for every man to take the whip into his own hand, but it is incumbent on all who professedly belong to Christ to burn with the zeal with which Christ was animated, when he vindicated the glory of his Father. Therefore, that profanation of the temple, at which he, in a manner so marked, expressed his strong displeasure, it is at least our part to condemn, in a free, firm, and decided tone...

But be the issue what it may, we will never repent of having begun, and of having proceeded thus far. The Holy Spirit is a faithful and unerring witness to our doctrine. We know, I say, that it is the eternal truth of God that we preach. We are, indeed, desirous, as we ought to be, that our ministry may prove salutary to the world; but to give it this effect belongs to God, not to us. If, to punish, partly the ingratitude, and partly the stubbornness of those to whom we desire to do good, success must prove desperate, and all things go to worse, I will say what it befits a Christian man to say, and what all who are true to this holy profession will subscribe: We will die, but in death even be conquerors, not only because through it we shall have a sure passage to a better life, but because we know that our blood will be as seed to propagate the divine truth which men now despise.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kabane and the Eastern Orthodox View of Salvation (Part 2)

When I last left off, I was dealing with the proof-texts that Kabane the Christian was tossing out in favour of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration (which the Eastern Orthodox hold in common with Roman Catholics and the Campbellite Churches of Christ). Most of the passages from Romans and Galatians which he throws out there don't really support the doctrine at all since they speak of identification of one's faith (unless you read into the text, of course), so I will skip ahead to the last passage given, since that is the one which might probably provide the best case:

Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ...
(1 Peter 3:21)

Notice that Kabane only quotes the first part of this verse (a trend which I have noted among most people who attempt to use this passage as a proof text), and do not seem to notice what follows immediately after it: "not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. " Special focus should be given to the clause which is most literally translated by the KJV and NKJV: "but the answer of a good conscience toward God" (ἀλλὰ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν). Peter, it seems, presupposes that those who are being baptized have already received justification and are merely responding to this gift of grace which God had bestowed upon them. For those who want the well-written Reformed Protestant treatment of this verse and its interpretation (which Kabane would undoubtedly disagree with but which I think would be profitable to present anyway), it would be worth quoting John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion for a better understanding of what this particular verse means:

Peter also says that “baptism also doth now save us” (1 Peter 3:21). For he did not mean to intimate that our ablution and salvation are perfected by water, or that water possesses in itself the virtue of purifying, regenerating, and renewing; nor does he mean that it is the cause of salvation, but only that the knowledge and certainty of such gifts are perceived in this sacrament. This the words themselves evidently show. For Paul connects together the word of life and baptism of water, as if he had said, by the gospel the message of our ablution and sanctification is announced; by baptism this message is sealed. And Peter immediately subjoins, that that baptism is “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, which is of faith.” Nay, the only purification which baptism promises is by means of the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, who is figured by water from the resemblance to cleansing and washing. Who, then, can say that we are cleansed by that water which certainly attests that the blood of Christ is our true and only laver? So that we cannot have a better argument to refute the hallucination of those who ascribe the whole to the virtue of water than we derive from the very meaning of baptism, which leads us away as well from the visible element which is presented to our eye, as from all other means, that it may fix our minds on Christ alone.

(4:50-5:50) - Kabane attempts to use Acts 8:14-17 as evidence for the practice of the sacrament of chrismation (or confirmation, as it is called in some western churches). Unforunately for him, this passage is too slender a reed to support the interpretation that he is imposing upon it. For in the first place, he assumes that chrismation (done in conjunction with baptism) is the way by which believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit. I have demonstrated towards the end of the first part of this review that the Holy Spirit comes upon believers in numerous ways, including instances wherein the Holy Spirit comes before baptism or laying on of hands is applied to believers (recall Acts 10:44-48). Also, if there is any action to which the sealing of the Holy Spirit can be connected to, it would be the preaching of the word and the subsequent belief of those who hear (see again the previously referred to verse, not to mention Ephesians 1:13).

The other problem with his usage of this passage is the assumption that the laying on of hands is sacramental in nature. We already pointed out that the effects that he is trying to connect to the laying on of hands can also take place apart from it. And besides, the incident recorded here has only the faintest similitude to the more elaborate practice of chrismation which the Eastern Orthodox churches have developed (yes, developed) over the centuries. Thus, there is no reason to suppose that there is any kind of sacramentalism involved in Acts 8:14-17.

(5:50-6:00) - What does Philippians 2:12 have to do with theosis? It is simply too much of a stretch to try and connect this passage to theosis. This has more to do with sanctification, or the work of the Holy Spirit in producing good fruit in believers. Take note of the the verse that comes immediately after, which states, "for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." Partaking of God's glory will definitely come in the future, but this is not reflected in the text just quoted.

(6:00-7:20) - I don't really have much quarrel with Kabane's statements about the Church being the body of Christ. However, I do take issue with his statements on the Eucharist. We ought to be thankful that the Eastern Orthodox Church has not erred in the way Roman Catholicism has in taking the Aristotelian notion of accidents and substances and using it to forge a doctrine of transubstantiation. However, the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Lord's Supper is still problematic enough to be worth a treatment.

Here, John 6:52-58 is given to demonstrate that the bread and the wine used in the Lord's Supper is literally Jesus' flesh and blood. Think about this just for a moment though: The Lord had not yet instituted the Supper at this point. How could He be giving the Jews an explanation of the Eucharist if He when nothing of the sort has ever even been practiced yet? Also, it has been argued that Jesus must have been talking literally since He made no effort to correct the Jews. This flies in the face of the fact that Jesus often speaks figuratively, then makes no effort to correct his Jewish hearers when they think he is speaking literally. Take for example John 2:18-22, where Jesus speaks figuratively about "destroying the temple." The Jews thought He literally meant the temple in Jerusalem, even though the text states that "He was speaking of the temple of His body" (John 2:21). Thus, those who think the Lord Jesus was speaking of literally consuming his flesh in John 6:52-58 have fallen into the same misunderstanding that the Jews have fallen for (with the notable difference that we now have people who actually are attempting to do that which the Jews thought they were being told to do, and rejected).

Rectifying this misunderstanding, it must be said that when Jesus spoke of eating His body and drinking His blood, He actually referred to exercising faith in Him. The text makes it abundantly clear with the abundant references to believing which appear in the chapter (John 6:35,36,40,47). And lest those who oppose this interpretation think that it is a novel one, I will refer to Saint Augustine, who understood similarly:

They said therefore unto Him, What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” For He had said to them, “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto eternal life.” “What shall we do?” they ask; by observing what, shall we be able to fulfill this precept? “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He has sent.” This is then to eat the meat, not that which perisheth, but that which endureth unto eternal life. To what purpose dost thou make ready teeth and stomach? Believe, and thou hast eaten already. Faith is indeed distinguished from works, even as the apostle says, “that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law...

He repeats this again when he says,

Wherefore, the Lord, about to give the Holy Spirit, said that Himself was the bread that came down from heaven, exhorting us to believe on Him. For to believe on Him is to eat the living bread. He that believes eats; he is sated invisibly, because invisibly is he born again. A babe within, a new man within. Where he is made new, there he is satisfied with food...

Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan elaborates further on Augustine's view of the Eucharist. He writes,

Augustine’s doctrine about “the sacrament of the body of Christ” was less explicit than his doctrine about baptism, not because he spoke of it less often (though he probably did), but because he did not specify its content with equal detail. Even those interpreters of Augustine who maintain that he taught the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist so explicitly that his language is “inexplicable unless he not only employed realistic formulas, but understood them in a realistic way” have been obliged to acknowledge that “certain formulas” are found in Augustine which can hardly be explained easily…

It is incorrect, therefore, to attribute to Augustine either a scholastic doctrine of transubstantiation or a Protestant doctrine of symbolism, for he taught neither—or both—and both were able to cite his authority. It is scarcely less idle to debate whether Augustine counted seven sacraments, as the scholastics eventually did, or only two, as Protestants did. He used the term “sacrament” more or less synonymously with “signum” and “signaculum.”[1]

I understand that there are many Eastern Orthodox who dislike what Augustine has to say on soteriological matters, but this is shown to prove that the Protestant interpretation is not an innovation, but can be traced back to the early church fathers. And Augustine is not the only one, for there are many also who have thought likewise. For example, Saint John Chrysostom taught with regards to the Lord's Supper that,

This is done in remembrance of what was then done. For (saith He) “do this in remembrance of Me.” ( Luke xxii. 19.) It is not another sacrifice, as the High Priest, but we offer always the same, or rather we perform a remembrance of a Sacrifice.

Theodoret of Cyrus taught likewise in his Dialogues. Interestingly enough, here it is the heretic (who goes by the name of Eranistes) who believes that some kind of change occurs to the bread and wine after an invocation is pronounced over them, whereas Orthodoxos (neat name, eh?) corrects him by saying that the bread and wine are symbols, and that they retain that nature:

Orth.—Tell me now; the mystic symbols which are offered to God by them who perform priestly rites, of what are they symbols?

Eran.—Of the body and blood of the Lord.

Orth.—Of the real body or not?

Eran.—The real.

Orth.—Good. For there must be the archetype of the image. So painters imitate nature and paint the images of visible objects.


Orth.—If, then, the divine mysteries are antitypes of the real body, therefore even now the body of the Lord is a body, not changed into nature of Godhead, but filled with divine glory.

Eran.—You have opportunely introduced the subject of the divine mysteries for from it I shall be able to show you the change of the Lord’s body into another nature. Answer now to my questions.

Orth.—I will answer.

Eran.—What do you call the gift which is offered before the priestly invocation?

Orth.—It were wrong to say openly; perhaps some uninitiated are present.

Eran.—Let your answer be put enigmatically.

Orth.—Food of grain of such a sort.

Eran.—And how name we the other symbol?

Orth.—This name too is common, signifying species of drink.

Eran.—And after the consecration how do you name these?

Orth.—Christ’s body and Christ’s blood.

Eran.—And do you believe that you partake of Christ’s body and blood?

Orth.—I do.

Eran.—As, then, the symbols of the Lord’s body and blood are one thing before the priestly invocation, and after the invocation are changed and become another thing; so the Lord’s body after the assumption is changed into the divine substance.

Orth.—You are caught in the net you have woven yourself. For even after the consecration the mystic symbols are not deprived of their own nature; they remain in their former substance figure and form; they are visible and tangible as they were before.

These and many other such writings from the early church fathers demonstrate that they did not hold to what either the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholics believe regarding the Eucharist, but lack of time prevents me from pursuing these quotations much further. Suffice to say, they did develop a belief in a real presence, but their view of the real presence was not well developed, and is miles away from anything that modern sacramentalists claim today. This is best explained by Jaroslav Pelikan:

For example, one of the most widespread calumnies against the Christians was the charge, “most impious and barbarous of all, that we eat human flesh” or “loaves steeped with blood.” The basis of this accusation was the language used by Christians about the Eucharist, for they seem to have spoken about the presence of the body and blood of Christ so realistically as to suggest a literal cannibalism. In the midst of rather meager and ambiguous evidence about the doctrine of the real presence in the second and third centuries and well beyond that period, these slanders would seem to be an important source of information in support of the existence of such a doctrine; but it is also important to note that the fathers, in defending themselves, did not elaborate a doctrine of the real presence.[2]

To this, church historian Philip Schaff agrees:

The doctrine concerning the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, not coming into special discussion, remained indefinite and obscure. The ancient church made more account of the worthy participation of the ordinance than of the logical apprehension of it. She looked upon it as the holiest mystery of the Christian worship, and accordingly celebrated it with the deepest devotion, without inquiring into the mode of Christ’s presence, nor into the relation of the sensible signs to his flesh and blood. It is unhistorical to carry any of the later theories back into this age; although it has been done frequently in the apologetic and polemic discussion of this subject.

I will continue this further on when I have the time. For now, grace and peace to you all.

In Christ,

End Notes
  1. Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971. pp 305-306.
  2. ibid., p 28.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lambs Among Wolves

Even in my home country, believers have to struggle against the onslaught of Islamic militants.

From Voice of the Martyrs Canada.

Lambs among wolves
By Patrice Johnson

Albert Francisco tugged on the small hand of Mial Rose. The nine-year-old tried desperately to keep up with her much taller and much older cousin. The two were on their way to the banana plantation where Albert worked so he could collect his pay. They were walking with relatives down the steep, rocky jungle paths in the Philippine mountains. It was early Sunday morning on May 3, 2009, and the sun bore down making the banana leaves droop underneath its strength.

As the group neared the banana plantation in the village of Tuluan, Albert's cousin began texting his girlfriend nearby. No one noticed the armed men hiding in the thick green jungle leaves until it was too late. When the men in fatigues appeared, Albert immediately recognized them -- they were members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MI).

Shots rang out. Chaos ensued. Albert pushed Mial Rose to the ground, throwing his body over his cousin. Shot in the foot, little Mial Rose was bleeding profusely. Albert was shot in the head and leg. Just before his world faded to black, Albert thought, "Lord, can you help me? Can you give me another chance to live?"

Moments after Albert and his relatives were ambushed, Jean Tongcua was in Tuluan, trying to squeeze in a bit of laundry. It was about 7 a.m. on May 3. She walked down the rocky path to the river near her home. Being six months pregnant, all Jean could manage was a waddle. Slapping her clothes against the huge rocks along the river bank she paused.

She heard something. She stood straight up. Guns rang out like celebratory fireworks. Jean's thoughts turned to her three daughters, ages nine, 11 and 12, home alone. She climbed up the river bank as fast as her pregnant body could take her and crested the small cliff only to see armed men shooting at anyone and everyone. She dropped to her knees and began crawling backwards. Shots whizzed over her head and then a sound louder than a gun whirred in her direction. Behind her the ground exploded and metal flew everywhere, including into her chest.

By the time the sun set on May 3, four people would be dead, including Albert's text-messaging cousin. Six others including Jean, Mial Rose and Albert, were hospitalized for their injuries. The coordinated attacks executed by the MI on three villages in Mindanao left more than 200 Christians homeless and 80 houses, all belonging to Christians, burned to the ground. Muslim homes in the area were left untouched. The Voice of the Martyrs USA took care of the hospital expenses for Jean, Mial Rose, who needed therapy for her foot, and Albert who spent weeks in the hospital. Albert needed multiple surgeries to remove the bullet in his brain. The May 3 attack was just one of hundreds. For years, thousands of peaceful Christian families have suffered at the hands of radical Islamists.

The Philippines is known throughout the world as a Catholic nation. Yet on the nation's second largest island of Mindanao a modern-day religious war is raging. While clinging to the vestiges of a separatist movement began nearly 700 years ago, radical Islamists are using violence, kidnapping and murder to persecute Mindanao's Christians, most of whom are poor subsistence farmers. Like lambs among wolves, Christians live under constant threat from their Muslim neighbours. The violence is so routine, Christian villages have created primitive warning systems akin to the colour-coded terror alert scale seen in airports. One United States official dubbed Mindanao "the new Mecca of terrorism."

Though it makes up just five percent of the population on Mindanao, the Muslim minority plays a sadistic game of musical chairs, stealing the land, destroying the homes, dividing the families and targeting the lives of Christians. It is their hope, when the music stops, the 13 million Christians currently living on the island will be either dead or Islamic converts.

But a small band of evangelical pastors and their flock are determined to stay in this war zone. They say the only way to stop the violence is to show the love of Christ to Muslims -- even as they face the relentless persecution Islamic extremists inflict upon them.

"It is hard to win Muslims to Christ," says Pastor Noel Vasquez, who lives in Mlang, just north of where the May 3 attacks occurred. "But I love Muslims, because behind [that violence] they are longing for love. And I can share the love of Christ with them."

The new Mecca of terrorism
The Toyota SUV bounces viciously as we drive down a "road," just off the main highway in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The road is really rock flattened by vehicles. Every few miles or so there is an army checkpoint. Philippine Army guards with M-16s slung over their shoulders periodically stop cars to peer in. Men in civilian clothes walk along the road, older guns bouncing on their backs. Every other half mile is a mosque, an unmistakable crescent-moon ornament adorning the rooftops.

Our host Pastor Levi and his wife, Lilly, take us to a refugee camp where hundreds of Christian families are forced to live because of the war. As Lilly points out landmarks she begins to cry. She has not been back to this part of Mindanao since she was a girl. Thirty years ago, her grandfather was shot to death by Muslim extremists. They stole her family's land forcing her to abandon her childhood home. For as long as they can remember, Christians in Mindanao have been living in a war zone.

The war began in the late 1300s when Makhdum Karim, an Arab trader, landed near the island of Mindanao. In 1380 he supervised the construction of the largest mosque in that region. More than a century later, the Spanish came to the Philippine islands with their knowledge of Jesus. When Spanish settlers looked to expand their empire to Mindanao they clashed with Muslims there. The Spanish dubbed them the Moro people and failed to conquer them. Hundreds of years, colonization by the United States, occupation by the Japanese and even Philippine independence have not dampened the Moros' dedication to Islam or their dreams of a separate Muslim nation on Mindanao.

Determined to unify the Philippines, the government gave huge swaths of land on Mindanao to poor Christian farmers in the 1950s; Lilly's family was among them. Clashes with the Philippine army and anger led to the forming of the Moro National Liberation Front, (MNLF) in the 1960s. MNLF's founder was Nuir Misauri, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines. Raised on anti-imperialist, anti-American and pro-revolutionary rhetoric and fueled by his studies of Islamic jihad in Libya, Nuir transformed from a political activist into a guerrilla general. He marshaled scores of young Muslim men and women to fight for independence. He declared war on anyone who stood in the way of complete separation from the government -- including unarmed Christians. Estimates say Nuir's war cost 120,000 lives and more than $3 billion.

In 1981, more extreme factions split from the MNLF and formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or the MI. The war took on overtones of jihad, death to infidels and the other extreme Islamic ideology usually heard on the Arabian Peninsula. The 9/11 Commission cites reports of Mohammed Atta, ringleader of the September 11 hijackers, training in Manila. In 2002, the U.S. -- so concerned about the ultra-violent Philippine Islamic terrorist group Abu Sayyaf -- created Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, eventually sending 1,300 troops and $100 million to help the Philippine government fight terrorism.

Peace talks resulted in the government granting Muslims authority to run five provinces on Mindanao. Yet the Muslims say this is not enough and lay claim to 15 provinces -- most of them majority Christian. Muslims try to force Christians to leave these lands through violent, sometimes fatal, intimidation.

"Certain portions of Mindanao are so lawless, so porous run the risk of it becoming like an Afghanistan situation, "Joseph Mussomeli, former acting U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, said in "Bearers of the Sword," a documentary film about Abu Sayyaf. "Mindanao is almost -- forgive the poor religious pun -- the new Mecca of terrorism."

"We cannot live as normal"
Christians say recent peace talks between the government and the multiple radical groups fighting them have not stalled the violence.

"They just started making camps for armed Muslims just 100 metres from my church," says Pastor Romulo O. Patricio. Pastor Patricio has a church in the Sultan Kudaatat province claimed by Muslims. "The Muslims have also begun inserting their houses in between the Christian houses. They built their mosque near our church. Most of the Christians are watching every night."

Pastor Patricio tells of a widow in his church, home alone when Muslims broke through a wall in her house. They poisoned her, knocking her unconscious, then ransacked her place and stole her bike and all the goods in her home-based store. She died of a heart attack shortly after. The attackers showed up at her funeral, questioning Pastor Patricio.

"What is your religion all about?" a Muslim asked. Then he tried to tell the pastor about Islam. Pastor Patricio politely told him the woman's funeral was not the time for a religious debate. "I talk to him as a friend," Pastor Patricio said. "Because if you show to the Muslim that you are against them they can easily make the decision that can really hurt you."

Radical extremism and the proximity of Christians to Muslims is an explosive combination that has left tens of thousands of Christians homeless and thousands dead. Attacks are so frequent Christians build wooden watch towers in their villages where armed men spend the night. One shot means start to pack, armed Muslims are coming. Two shots mean forget the packing, get out now. The unyielding assaults have robbed Christians like Josephine Claridad of their normality. Josephine used to have a beautiful home made of concrete and wood. She had a small farm where she grew food for her family. She was part of a bustling Christian community in Alamada. Her fellow neighbours had elected her as a leader to negotiate with local government officials on their behalf.

But then in December 2008, gunfire jolted Josephine out of her bed. It was not the first time, but this time it was different. "I thought that it is time for the end of the world," she said. "I was very afraid." Psalm 23 floated through her mind. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters...." She asked the Lord for guidance because she knew only He could make her safe. In her night clothes and slippers, Josephine ran out into the dead of night fleeing for her life.

She flagged down a vehicle and the driver drove her to a nearby relative's house. In all, about 250 families fled their homes during that attack, ending up in a refugee centre located less than three miles from a Philippine military base. VOM-USA supplied food, bedding, clothes and other necessities to refugees like Josephine. Josephine visits her home during the day but says it is too dangerous for her to spend the night. She is hoping to return home permanently.

"We cannot live as normal," she says. "We can't really live as peaceful as we did before because we still have our minds on that night and they might come back again. I miss sleeping alone in my home. When you stay in your home you feel like your home is your palace."

Persecution is the norm on Mindanao yet church leaders are not defeated. "We are peace loving people," says Pastor Daniel Saure Sr., who pastors a church in Cotabato where a church was bombed on July 5, 2009. "We want to have a nice rest but during this time the majority of us will not really have a good sleep. I would love to have peace ... but to me I don't like to admit that it is a curse, because persecution ... when talked about by Jesus ... if you want to live a holy life you are surely going to suffer persecution. It was said that we are going to suffer much tribulation to get into the kingdom of God. And it just so happens that we are in a certain area where our faith is really tried because of the current situation."

"If we die, we die with the Lord"
No one would blame Christians living on Mindanao if they pulled up stakes and left. Yet those interviewed are determined to stay. Not because they are fighting for land but because they are fighting for souls. Even in war, pastors are actively evangelizing the Muslims who seek to kill them.

"Persecution is a very big lesson to learn," says Pastor Saure. "Ask Jesus -- He has taught us forgiveness. It takes much grace [from] the Lord to do that.... So you look at the person as a soul that needs a saviour, individually not so much as ideology.

"We share our faith with Muslims and when we have programs we include them socially. Not so much conversion but programs that will help them to see that we love them. That is why we show them love. Someone from another village said, 'No, do not do that.' We said, 'This church is loving and forgiving and showing the love of God' and we will do the best we can to share what we have."

So how do you evangelize someone who seeks to kill you? Pastor Noel Vasquez, who has a church in an area surrounded by armed Muslims, explains it this way:

"First I fast," he says. "Then I find." Once Pastor Noel finds a willing Muslim he just loves on them. He gives them gifts -- food, rice, little things. He becomes their friend. Pretty soon he is eating in their home and telling them about God. Bringing a Muslim to church would result in death for the Muslim and the pastor so Pastor Noel takes his evangelism to other places, like city hall. With the help of a Christian politician he began holding devotionals five days a week for city employees, some of whom are Muslims. One time a Muslim challenged him. "If your god is a true god he will heal me," the Muslim said. He had a kidney stone.

Pastor Noel took the prayer request back to all the pastors he knew. He did not mention the Muslim man by name. About 35 congregations prayed that Sunday. "That week the Lord delivered him from that kidney stone," Pastor Noel said grinning widely. The healed man is now a believer.

VOM-USA provided Pastor Noel a motorbike so he can reach more Muslims in his area. Even as he spreads the gospel in the most dangerous areas he is not afraid. "If God is for us who can be against us," he says. "Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. So these killings and murders are just a thing that is passing our way so let us hang on to the love of Christ in our hearts because if we are with Christ even if we die, we die with the Lord."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kabane and the Eastern Orthodox View of Salvation (Part 1)

First off, I would like to begin my blog post by saying that I respect Kabane the Christian. He is a pretty nice and respectable guy. I have known about and been encouraged by his youtube videos on the defense of the Christian faith ever since I first became a born again Christian, and my commendations go out to him and his efforts to help demonstrate to others the veracity of Christianity.

With that out of the way, I must admit that although I admire his historical arguments for the reliability of the Gospels and the resurrection of Christ, I find that his justification (excuse the pun) for why he thinks Eastern Orthodoxy is the one true expression of Christianity to be far less than compelling. In arguing against Protestant doctrines of justification by faith alone and penal substitution, he uses many of the same arguments that have long been utilized by Roman Catholic apologists (although it is of noteworthy interest that the same Roman Catholic colleague I once defended Sola Scriptura against is also taking Kabane to task on the latter's sub-biblical understanding of the atonement). Here, I am posting his video where he expounds the Eastern Orthodox view on soteriology, with my comments and critique following:

(00:50-1:05) - Notice how at the very outset, Kabane adopts some familiar rhetoric from Roman Catholic apologists by referring to the great Reformation as "the Protestant rebellion." At this point, he makes his first crucial mistake, which is making the assumption that Eastern Orthodoxy's particular understanding of salvation has existed "for two thousand years." Of course, if one were to make a study of historical theology, one would find out that the Christian Church has had to reflect upon and develop her understanding of salvation. In fact, the earliest systematic formulations of what salvation entails only developed during soteriological controversies that took place in the late fourth and early fifth centuries (which incidentally took place in the western rather than the eastern church).

This is not to say that the church fathers prior to this time had no doctrine of salvation, but that this doctrine was still in its seed form and had not yet been systematized. At this point, the question becomes, "whose development on the doctrine of salvation is the legitimate one, then?" I hope to answer this as we go further on in our delineation of this topic...

(1:05-1:20) - Here, our friend attempts to provide a brief explanation of the Protestant view on salvation. While Kabane seems to have the gist of it, he makes another error, one which often crops up in critiques against, Protestantism. In stating that "Protestants... believe that salvation is a one time event," he confuses justification with the entirety of salvation. We believe that justification is a one time event, but that justification is only a part of salvation. We do not deny that there is an ongoing process of renewal and sanctification (which is distinct from and begins immediately after justification) brought about by the Holy Spirit in the believing Christian's life, which is completed at the end of the believer's life here on earth once we have achieved glorification, which is the end of golden chain of redemption (cf. Romans 8:30). If by salvation, one means the entire chain of redemption (which begins with God's effectual calling and ordination towards eternal life), then salvation can be referred to as a process. However, that is not the understanding which Kabane presents here, so we remain at variance on this point.

(1:20-1:35) - Here, James 2:14-26 is brought out, as it is the most commonly cited passage against the doctrine of Justification through faith alone in favour of a Justification that includes meritorious works in addition to faith. At this point, I would agree with Kabane that this passage's apparent contradiction with other passages such as Romans 3:28 should be resolved by careful exegesis and looking at the entirety of scripture in its proper context. Perhaps this would be a good time to take a look at James 2 and how this relates to justification.

It must be remembered that words can take on different meanings when used in different contexts, and that it is fallacious to simply take what a word means in a certain passage and assume that it means the exact same thing in every other instance that it is used. This is the case with the word for "justify" (δικαιόω). A contradiction would definitely arise if we were to suppose that Paul and James are using the word "justify" in the exact same sense in their respective epistles. However, context should indicate that they are using the word in different senses. When Paul uses "justify," he uses it to refer to a declarative act of God in which the sinner is acquitted in His sight. This is the sense it is used in throughout Romans, and especially in Romans 4:2,4, 5:1,9.

When James uses "justify," however, he is using the term in the sense of vindicating or proving one's justification. Our Lord Himself uses the word in this sense when He says, "Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds." (Matthew 11:19, ESV). Obviously, this does not mean that wisdom becomes wisdom by virtue of her producing deeds, but that her producing deeds becomes evidence of her authenticity. In fact, if you looked at this verse in the New American Standard Bible, you will find that ἐδικαιώθη is translated therein as "vindicated." This shows that the word "justify" can have some very nuanced meanings, and it is this meaning "justify" takes on in James' writings.

To put it in simpler terms, look at the sentence, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." (James 2:24) and think of it the same way you would think of the sentence, "You see that the sky is blue because you looked up at it." Does your looking up at the sky cause it to become blue ? Of course not! The sky's colour is not dependent upon our looking up at it, but it is by looking up at it that we recognize that it is blue. It is the same case with faith and works. Our justification is not grounded upon whether we perform works or not, but the works that faith produces becomes the evidence that vindicates our claim to having been justified by the blood of Christ. This is the gist of James' answer to the "someone" he responds to in James 2:18 when he says, "Show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." The NET translation note helps explain this, stating that "James’ reply is [intended to mean] that faith cannot exist or be seen without works." (link)

Needless to say, James 2 is not really a problem for those who affirm justification through faith alone. Thoughtful exegetes have grappled with the text plenty of times before and have worked out what the proper understanding of it is.

(1:35-1:45) - Kabane sets up a false dichotomy here. He seems to think that either one accepts a substitutionary view of atonement, or the classical "Christus Victor" view which the Eastern Orthodox Church has adopted as its official position. The fact is that scripture teaches both views to be true. The loosening of the bonds of death is indeed affirmed by Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians when he writes,

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

"Death is swallowed up in victory."
"O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?"

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

Also, in his epistle to the Colossians, he states that through Christ's death on the cross, "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him" (Colossians 2:15). Notice, however, what he says in the verses preceding this. In verses 13-14, he states that God "made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." There is also Isaiah's prophecy concerning the Messiah, wherein the prophet proclaims that he "the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6, ESV). The word הִפְגִּיעַ, which is often translated as "laid," actually denotes attacking. At this point, the NET translation note on the verse helps shed light on the meaning of this verse:

Elsewhere the Hiphil of פָגַע (paga’) means “to intercede verbally” (Jer 15:11; 36:25) or “to intervene militarily” (Isa 59:16), but neither nuance fits here. Apparently here the Hiphil is the causative of the normal Qal meaning, “encounter, meet, touch.” The Qal sometimes refers to a hostile encounter or attack; when used in this way the object is normally introduced by the preposition -בְּ (bet, see Josh 2:16; Judg 8:21; 15:12, etc.). Here the causative Hiphil has a double object – the Lord makes “sin” attack “him” (note that the object attacked is introduced by the preposition -בְּ. In their sin the group was like sheep who had wandered from God’s path. They were vulnerable to attack; the guilt of their sin was ready to attack and destroy them. But then the servant stepped in and took the full force of the attack. (link)

Thus, the verse literally means, "the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him" (NET). These passages, coupled with the various passages that talk about the wrath of God against sinners (Romans 1:18, Ephesians 2:3, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:8, 1 Thessalonians 2:16, etc.) Jesus delivering us from this wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10,5:9, etc.) certainly prove that there is a legal and propitiatory aspect to Christ atonement, does it not? It is as Peter wrote,

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
(1 Peter 2:24-25)

(1:45-2:45) - Here, Kabane expounds the Eastern Orthodox doctrine known as "Theosis." Interestingly enough, the two passages that Kabane cites in support of Theosis are the same passages which are used to define glorification. In fact, in John Piper's reflections on the life of Saint Athanasius, he points out that what those in the eastern church refer to as deification is really the same thing as what we in the western church refer to as glorification (link). If this is indeed the case, then I should not have to worry about the idea of Theosis per se, even though I think that the language that is being used to explain this doctrine sort of makes it harder to understand.

Also, while Christ's incarnation was certainly a necessary step towards our atonement, I would disagree if what Kabane actually meant was that the incarnation itself brought about atonement in some sense. This is very similar to an outdated doctrine known as the recapitulation theory, which was formulated by Irenaeus of Lyons back in the late second century. Of course, I am not sure if this is what the Eastern Orthodox mean when they say that redemption is accomplished through incarnation, so I will leave it to Kabane et al. to explain what they mean by their words.

(2:45-3:30) - In his attempt to discredit the Protestant use of Romans 3:24-26, Kabane sets up yet another false dichotomy. The fact is that ἱλαστήριον can mean "mercy seat," yet at the same time also carry the connotation of propitiation. For this, I will once again refer to the NET translation notes:

The word ἱλαστήριον (Jilasthrion) may carry the general sense “place of satisfaction,” referring to the place where God’s wrath toward sin is satisfied. More likely, though, it refers specifically to the “mercy seat,” i.e., the covering of the ark where the blood was sprinkled in the OT ritual on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This term is used only one other time in the NT: Heb 9:5, where it is rendered “mercy seat.” There it describes the altar in the most holy place (holy of holies). Thus Paul is saying that God displayed Jesus as the “mercy seat,” the place where propitiation was accomplished. See N. S. L. Fryer, “The Meaning and Translation of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25,” EvQ 59 (1987): 99-116, who concludes the term is a neuter accusative substantive best translated “mercy seat” or “propitiatory covering,” and D. P. Bailey, “Jesus As the Mercy Seat: The Semantics and Theology of Paul’s Use of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25” (Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 1999), who argues that this is a direct reference to the mercy seat which covered the ark of the covenant. (link)

Also, to refer to "modern scholarship" to back up your claims without actually citing the relevant people and materials isn't exactly the best way to go about proving your case. If you have worked with skeptics, semi-informed Muslims and liberal scholars before, you would probably already know that claiming that "scholars say" or "modern scholarship has proven" this or that thing without giving the citations is a convenient way of proving just about anything, which is why I have always gone out of my way to make sure that I provide proper references when making statements such as these.

(3:35-4:00) - Kabane here attempts to lay a case for the idea that becoming born again is dependent upon baptism. He cites several texts in quick succession, not really taking much time to exegete them, so I think it would only be fair to go through the texts he cites in the order that he cites them and see what they really mean. So, we begin with this passage:

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.
(Titus 3:5)

Kabane has taken this passage out of its context. It must be taken note of here that Paul specifically excludes the addition of any kind of works done by us when we are saved, even works that "we have done in righteousness" (οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων τῶν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ). Thus, simply citing the phrase "washing of regeneration" does not help here, as the context precludes the idea that it is referring to baptism. For more information on this verse, Dr. James White has a well-written article explaining why this passage cannot be used as proof for baptismal regeneration. Next:

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
(John 3:5)

It is astounding that some are quick to seize at any instance of the words "water" like this and automatically assume that it is referring to baptism, especially when baptism is nowhere mentioned in the context of this passage, and it is unlikely that Nicodemus would even know about Christian baptism. The key here is the fact that there is no definite article between "water" and "spirit," which would indicate that these two words are describing the same thing. This would make sense in light of the fact that Old Testament often uses water as a symbol for the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit (cf. Psalm 51:2-3, Isaiah 1:16, Jeremiah 33:8 and Ezekiel 36:24-26). Check out J.P. Holding's article on this topic as well, not to mention this article from Evidence for God, as it provides some very helpful insight. Next two passages:

Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.
(Acts 22:16)

Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
(Acts 2:38)

I would like to make a few points here. First, remember that God had already touched Paul even before being baptized. Also note that nowhere in Luke-Acts is baptism mentioned alone in the context of salvation, but is always used in conjunction with repentance and/or calling upon the name of the Lord. Also, to be baptized "for the forgiveness of sins" is a rather ambiguous phrase. The preposition εἰς in this context could be translated as "because of" rather than "for" or "into," and it would not do too well to stake too much on an ambiguity such as this.

Also, do not think that receiving the Holy Spirit is dependent upon baptism. The book of Acts alone presents plenty of evidence against such a causal relationship. As examples, in Acts 2:4, the apostles receive the Holy Spirit apart from baptism. In Acts 8:16, we see a number of people who have been baptized but do not yet have the Holy Spirit. And in Acts 10:44, the Holy Spirit comes down upon the people while Peter is preaching to them, even though they are not baptized until later on (this could perhaps be seen as evidence in support of believer's baptism).

At this point, I don't have time to tackle the remaining proof texts offered, and I have only given my answer to the first four minutes of Kabane's video. Lord willing, I will continue my discussion of this issue and examine how well the rest of his arguments for Eastern Orthodoxy hold up.

In Christ,

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A Brief Christian Critique of Nihilism

(I originally wrote this article as an assignment for my introduction to Philosophy class. When I handed in this essay to my teacher, I had to omit numerous portions to save space and conform to my teacher’s standards. This is the original, unabridged version of the article, containing all of the words and citations that I originally used. Since this is only an introductory level essay, more experienced philosophers are bound to find it to be less than convincing. However, this should help to provide a springboard, from which I can further develop my views, not to mention help to inform those who have no prior knowledge on the topic in question.)

The philosophical doctrine of nihilism (from the Latin word “nihil,” meaning nothing), which was developed in the nineteenth century, is a position which claims that life is utterly bereft of meaning. We humans are nothing more than the chance products of millions of years of evolution. Arthur Schopenhauer, who was one of the leading proponents of nihilism, stated that “We can regard our life as a uselessly disturbing episode in the blissful repose of nothingness…” with the conclusion that “Human existence must be a kind of error.” In summary, nothing matters, and thus, life has no purpose, no direction, no truth, no goodness and no evil. There is nothing but the blind, pitiless indifference of the universe we live in. They assert that everything that we work for will be in vain and value as it will all be vaporized into cosmic dust someday, and we ourselves will eventually return to the dirt from whence we came.

At this point, the flaws in the nihilist perspective should begin to be apparent. First of all, as has been pointed out by other philosophers, if nothing matters, then nihilism does not matter.[2] And if it does not matter, then this position turns out upon close inspection to be illogical and self-defeating, as there is no point even postulating it in the first place. It is as modern English philosopher Roger Scruton wrote, ‘A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is “merely negative”, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.’[3]

In addition, by stating that our existence is “a kind of error,” Schopenhauer assumes categories that nihilism can not even account for. To say that existence (or anything else, for that matter) is a mistake is to presuppose that certain things are definitely right and wrong, and yet nihilism asserts that such metaphysical categories do not even exist. Even if they did, they can be neither known nor communicated.[4] If the nihilists are to be truly consistent, then they would not be able to provide any judgment as to whether life is an “error” or not. And by judging life as being an “error,” the nihilists are borrowing certain presuppositions from the theistic worldview which alone can account for objectivity as to what is and is not erroneous.

Finally, nihilism fails because one can not live consistently as a nihilist. Nihilists may proclaim to the skies all they want that there is nothing to life, but the simple fact is that none of them live can as though life is purposeless without losing sanity. Nobody demonstrates this better than Schopenhauer’s contemporary, the famous nineteenth century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche may have bought into Schopenhauer’s nihilism, but he realized that he can not live as though life had no meaning. His thought on this went as follows:

“If objective truth [is] dead, the only thing that could save us from the abyss… [is] to create our own meaning by a sheer act of willpower. We will ourselves into believing something that will give us meaning.”[5]

Nietzsche failed, of course. He had a mental breakdown and spent the final years of his life in an insane asylum. So it can now be concluded by this point that nihilism, as propounded by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and their contemporaries, is a position that is both logically inconsistent and impossible to live by, and thus ought to be discarded.

There is only one alternative, and that is theism. To find a non-theistic position on the meaning of life simply will not work, as it’d lack any definite objective grounds for finding meaning or purpose, such that any meaning or purpose any given individual finds will just be that individual’s own flawed perception. Any such paradigm will inevitably reduce itself back to nihilism once followed to its logical conclusions, due to its lack of solid grounding. Only an infinite, transcendent creator (who must also necessarily be personal, since an impersonal deity would not care to give humanity any kind of purpose) such as believed in by theists can create humanity with a definite purpose and end in mind,[6] apart from which we are little more than glorified pond scum, doomed to drift from dust to dust and devoid of direction. The words of the great Saint Augustine ring true here when he says, “You [God] have made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”[7]

End Notes
  1. Paquette, Paul G., et al. Philosophy: Questions and Theories. p. 169.
  2. ibid., p. 169.
  3. Cited in Blanchard, John. Can We Be Good Without God?. p. 12.
  4. Paquette, et al. p. 249.
  5. West, John G. C.S. Lewis and the Materialist Menace.
  6. Paquette, et al. p. 170.
  7. Augustine. Confessions. p 21.

  • Augustine. Confessions (translated by R.S. Pine-Coffin). Penguin Books, 1961.
  • Blanchard, John. Can We Be Good Without God?. Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2007.
  • Paquette, Paul G., et al. Philosophy: Questions and Theories. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 2003.
  • West, John G. C.S. Lewis and the Materialist Menace. Discovery Institute. July 15, 1996 (Accessed April 03, 2010), (
UPDATE (04/12/2010)
Shortly after writing this essay, somebody attempted to discredit my third argument by claiming that Nietzsche's mental breakdown was actually caused by syphilis. Needless to say, it took thirty seconds on Google to debunk that urban legend. Besides, even if the Syphilis was somehow true (and this has not been established), it would only mean that the disease was an aggravator that helped speed up Nietzsche's inevitable descent into madness.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Lord of Glory (Sermon)

Sermon Title:
The Lord of Glory

Sermon Text:
Jesus answered, "If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, 'He is our God'; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." So the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.
(John 8:54-49, NASB)

Sermon Proposition:
The identity of the person of Jesus Christ is at the very heart of our entire Christian faith, and those who compromise or reject the biblical truth on this issue do so at great risk to the state of their eternal souls.

Bible translations used:
AMP – Amplified Bible
ESV – English Standard Version
NASB – New American Standard Bible
NWT – New World Translation

First of all, I would like to ask you all two questions. My first question is this: How many of you here have had encounters with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Latter-Day Saints or other cultic groups? Raise your hands if you have.

(Wait for people to raise hands)

All right, that’s cool. I’ve had some encounters with some of them myself. In fact, over the summer last year I’ve had extended conversations with a Jehovah’s Witness who lives in my apartment building, and I’ve been able to procure several copies of their Watchtower magazine. Now, you don’t have to answer my second question out loud, but try to sort the question out in your own minds. The question is: Why is it that we reject fellowship with Latter-Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians and other such groups even though they profess to be Christians?

(Wait three seconds)

Now, you could point to various errors that they teach, but I would contend that the primary heresy these groups have that becomes the source of most their other errors is in their fundamentally flawed idea of who Jesus Christ is. The Church of the Latter-Day Saints believes that Jesus is a deified man, just one among many celestial gods. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that He is the archangel Michael; the greatest of God’s creations, but nonetheless only a creation. Still, the Unitarians believe that He is a great moral teacher, but is not substantially equal to the Father. And I understand that this is a very pluralistic society, so it is tempting to downplay these things and pretend that it doesn’t really matter. I mean, we can all agree to disagree, right? Well, if we are to proclaim the gospel of God, we simply cannot take that kind of attitude.

What I propose to you, brothers and sisters, is that the identity of the person of Jesus Christ is at the very heart of our entire Christian faith, and those who compromise or reject the biblical truth on this issue do so at great risk to the state of their eternal souls. The Lord Jesus Himself suggests this all throughout the scriptures, and especially in the Gospel of John. In fact, this affirmation of who Christ is appears right in the beginning of that Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3, ESV) Just prior to the passage that was recited for us, Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24, ESV).

Now, here is a helpful little piece of trivia: There is really no “He” in that passage. Jesus is actually saying, “For unless you believe that I AM you will die in your sins.” This parallels verse 58 where He says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” For those who are not familiar with this reference, it is an allusion to Exodus 3:14, wherein God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.' (NASB). Now, those who deny that Jesus is God in the flesh would try to mistranslate John 8:58 to obscure the obvious. For example, if you’ve ever gotten your hands on the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation, you will find that they will make Jesus say “Before Abraham came into existence, I have been” (NWT). They also mistranslate Exodus 3:14 by making God say, “I SHALL PROVE TO BE WHAT I SHALL PROVE TO BE.” (NWT). Makes no sense now, does it? If, however, you were able to check John 8:58 in the original Greek and compared it with the Greek Septuagint translation of Exodus 3:14, you’ll find out that they use the exact same phrase: εγω ειμι, I AM. Besides, look at how the Jews respond to Him: “Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:59, NASB). If there was no connection between what Jesus says in verse 58 and the “I am” statement in Exodus 3:14, then the response of the Jews would no longer make any sense in its context. This shows the futility of any attempt to escape the implications of Jesus’ clear statements concerning who He is and where He has come from.

And by the way, there are a few I am statements that appear in the synoptic gospels as well. For example, Jesus in the trial before the Sanhedrin, when asked if He is the son of God, says "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14:62, ESV). In the gospel of Luke, the statement is shortened to “It is just as you say; I AM.” (Luke 22:70, AMP). In both cases, the phrase for “I am” is the exact same phrase, εγω ειμι. This is significant, because no other character in the entire Bible utilizes the phrase “I am” in this exact same way. Anytime any other character in the bible says “I am…”, it is either phrased differently (such as in 1 Corinthians 15:10) or it is stated in such a way that it is obvious that the person in question is making no claims to deity (such as in 1 Timothy 1:15). This is significant, for how does the Sanhedrin respond to Jesus’ statements? They responded: “‘What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?’ And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the officers received Him with slaps in the face” (Mark 14:63-65, NASB).

Thus we see that these cults who deny that Jesus is truly God fall into the same fatal error that the Jewish people fell into back in Jesus’ own day. For unless we confess, as the apostle Thomas did, that Jesus Christ is “our Lord and our God” (John 20:28, paraphrased), how can His propitiatory sacrifice on the cross be infinitely sufficient to cover over all of our sins? See, our Soteriology hangs totally on our Christology (I’m assuming that you all still remember what those two terms mean): For Jesus to save us, He must be truly God, as well as truly man; otherwise His death cannot be sufficient to save us. This is not a minor issue. This is not theological nitpicking. This is at the very heart of the gospel, for the One who was nailed upon the tree, we proclaim to be “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13). Without this critical proclamation of the divinity of Jesus Christ, we shall be left without any gospel of grace at all.

And it is for this reason that we confess, in the words of the great Nicene Creed, that: "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.” So, here I stand, I can do no other. Jesus Christ is the Lord of Glory, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. I stake my eternal destiny on Him, and I would dare not compromise on this great biblical truth. To those who deny this, or would think of even deserting this great confession of ours, it should suffice to point out the warning that Paul gave to the Galatians against those who would dare to pervert the Gospel: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to and different from that which we preached to you, let him be accursed (anathema, devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment)! As we said before, so I now say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel different from or contrary to that which you received [from us], let him be accursed…” (Galatians 1:8-9, AMP).

Maranatha, our Lord Jesus come. Amen!