Friday, August 3, 2012

The Ballad of Acceptance and Repentance:

We have reached a time where the Christian church is wrestling through cultural, political, and societal decisions like never before.  While controversial subjects have come and gone, the controversies today are coming in greater volume and with more and more indecision than in years' past.  Christians are being called out and demanded to state where they stand on these hot-topic issues without any permission granted to offer a defense, either scripturally, or philosophically for the answer given. Without being granted permission to offer a defense, Christians are, therefore, choosing to remain silent.  Many sit idly by, holding onto the hope of the gospel, but choosing not to share that hope with others out of fear of being ridiculed and chastised for their beliefs.

In an attempt to counter this onslaught of controversies various Christian church leaders have focused a great deal of time and energy on two various aspects of the teachings of Jesus: 1) Jesus' grace and 2) Jesus' truth.  The purpose behind this type of education is in the "and".  Jesus communicated, lived, and loved others in both grace AND in truth.  Jesus wasn't one-sided.  Nor did Jesus place 80% of His effort and energy into grace and 20% into truth, or vice-versa. He lived and loved others equally through both grace and truth.  The message from these leaders has therefore been, "As Christians we must show a tremendous amount of grace to others AND clearly communicate what the scriptures say".  It's a message focused toward Christians who are one-sided or silent.  Those who have hope, but who may not choose to share that hope with others. 

Unfortunately, these efforts to teach others about grace and truth, as noble and honorable as they have been, have failed.  The reason they have failed, in my opinion, is that the lack of grace AND truth in how Christians communicate, live, and love others is only a symptom of a greater problem.  Are grace AND truth needed?  Absolutely.  But there's a greater problem in the church today than not living our lives equally within the bounds of grace and truth. The problem is this: the Christian church is living completely unbalanced in the areas of Acceptance and Repentance, and this unbalance mainly stems from varying understandings of the greatest four-letter word of them all.  Love.

Indeed, even among Christians today, the word "love" has a variety of meanings.  For some, love remains mostly an emotional feeling.  If one doesn't *feel* loved by others, then others are unloving, or worse, hateful.  For others, the word love isn't a feeling at all, it's about *being* loving toward others.  But once again, being loving toward others also has various interpretations.  And this is where we get into the subject of acceptance.

From my own observations, "acceptance" today has two meanings.  I could dive into this in greater detail, but for the sake of discussion I'll give 2 brief definitions.  One is that acceptance means loving a person, as a person.  Black, white, straight, gay, rich, love the person regardless of any ethnicity, sexuality, or fiances they may have.  Indeed the Bible says not to show favortism toward either rich or poor (James 2:1-4; Leviticus 19:15).  One may befriend them, respect them, and overall accept them as an individual.

However, there is a second meaning of "acceptance" today.  The second is that acceptance means loving a person and their belief system.  This means that if one is truly accepting of one who is rich, they must also accept the way he runs he business.  If one is to truly accept one who is homosexual, they must also accept his position on homosexuality.  If one is to accept one who is white, they must also accept his views on politics.  Some may see this as an exaggeration, but I see it far too often in today's culture.  "Acceptance" means accepting another person AND their belief system.  Tell somebody you disagree.  Tell them you see sin in their life.  Tell them they need to repent.  Say any of these things - whether a minor or major political disagreement, whether it's acknowledgement of sin, whether it's sharing wisdom or offering advice on how to "turn from" something (repentance) - it's seen as unloving.

As I observe this, I must turn to the scriptures to see how Jesus and others handled the subjects of acceptance and repentance.  And what I see is a great deal of Acceptance AND Repentance.  There truly is great power in the AND.  When I read John 8:2-11, I see Jesus firmly see the value in life and accept (love) an adulterous woman.  And she knew it.  The impact He had on her life in that moment was quite profound.  But what did Jesus say next?  "Go, and from now on do not sin anymore."  Yikes.  This doesn't go over well with the 2nd definition of acceptance above, does it?  But there's more.  Through the book of Acts, the first disciples have been called to share the Gospel, and they're called to do it to both Jews and Gentiles.  To the first disciples this meant taking the Gospel message to God's chosen people (the disciples understood this to be the Jews) AND to those who were not God's chosen people (the Gentiles).   What do the disciples say as they take this message onward?

In Acts 2:14-41 Peter gives one of a number of speeches that are located all through the book of Acts.  He concludes by saying, "Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for your sins."   We see it again in Acts 3:19, "...repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out."  And again in 8:22, "...repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you."  This one, I believe is crucial, as entails the intent of the heart.  How often today does one say, "I believe you're engaging in sin," and they say it with a true heart of, "I really want what's best for heart is for you," yet they're seen as unloving, unaccepting, or perhaps even hateful.

But this word "repent" never really goes away.  We see it again Acts 18:30-31, "Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent..."  What was that?  God commands all people everywhere to repent?  Yes, that's what it says. God wants people to turn from sin.  All people.  Black, white, straight, gay, rich, poor...all people.  But to ask one to do so today is often considered unloving.  It's often considered unaccepting.  It's often considered flat-out wrong.  Or as modern culture has recently shows, it's intolerant, or hateful.

Outside of the disciples, what exactly did Jesus preach about repentance?  He said, "Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near."  (Matthew 4:17).  Additionally,  He said, "The healthy don't need a doctor, but the sick do.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."  (Luke 5:32).    Jesus' words in Luke 10:13-16 are stronger, much stronger.

I could provide additional examples, but the main point is that the scriptures clearly communicate the importance of both acceptance and repentance.  Jesus expressed both acceptance and repentance.  The disciples expressed both acceptance and repentance.  But today, Christians live in a culture that spends much more time, energy, and resources focusing on a faulty understanding of acceptance.  We would do better to fully understand what it means to accept a person.  Black, white, straight, gay, rich, poor...accept them as a person.  Not their beliefs.  Not their political views.  Simply accepting them as a person.  Yet be unafraid and unashamed to ask them to repent and turn to God.  Not out of pride, or arrogance, but out a simple, humble heart that wants God's best for all people.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

LDS Teachings: Part 1

Oh, no.  Another election year in the US.  This means that millions of Americans are and will continue to be up in arms about who to vote for, and why.  Notwithstanding, I'm not writing this post to promote or advocate any individual candidate.  I've simply observed the following in our culture:  1) Barrack Obama is a professing Christian, who (at least in the eyes of some) seems to teach/lead/believe certain things that may stray from Christian doctrine.  2) Mitt Romney is a professing Mormon (LDS).  With Romney pretty much a lock as the Republican candidate, downloads of "The Book of Mormon" have significantly increased, as people in our culture want to know what it is Mormon's teach and believe.  Additionally, this has led a number of people to ask me, "What is it that Mormons believe?"  Therefore, I'm creating this series of post to highlight some certain specifics on Mormon teaching.  After discussing a few of the major differences between Mormonism and Christianity, I'll write my opinion as to why Mormons believe what they believe as well as suggestions on how to converse with them.

Note: When conversing with anybody who is a Mormon, there is one general principle to follow: in the modern world, "Mormon" has become an almost taboo word.  Therefore, throughout this series of post I shall refer to Mormons as LDS (Latter Day Saints), which is the standard by which Mormons identify themselves.

LDS Teaching #1: There are numerous gods.

Ask a Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, etc. how many gods there are, and they are sure to answer, "One!".  Indeed, the Old Testament passage Deut. 6:4 HCSB (known to those of a Jewish background as the Shema) states, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one."  There is One God...One.  Christianity teaches that God is One but found in three separate but equal persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is Christianity 101 type stuff. However, the LDS church teaches something vastly different.

As a part of this discussion it must be noted that the LDS church doesn't only look upon the Bible as a sacred text.  Nor do they acknowledge only the Bible and the Book of Mormon as sacred texts.  They have four.  These include, The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and their Doctrine and Covenants.  For the sake of this conversation on gods, we must look at a book that is part of the Pearl of Great Price, "The Book of Abraham".

In 1835, Joseph Smith and the young LDS church purchased a scroll from ancient Egypt.  Joseph Smith quickly "discovered" that he was able to interpret the scroll, and that it was indeed writings of Abraham (see Genesis 12 onward).  Joseph Smith went on to interpret the scroll which is known today as the Book of Abraham.  This book is of crucial significance to LDS doctrine, as it gives a detailed account of the creation of the earth.  The book describes how a council of the gods comes together to discuss the creation and birth of various spirits, and the differences of the spirits...and so on.

At the time Joseph Smith and the LDS church purchased this Egyptian papyri, nobody on earth could translate Egyptian hieroglyphics, so nobody had any reason to doubt Smith's interpretation. The papyri was determined to have been written by the hand of Abraham himself, and nobody should doubt it's authority as a part of true scripture.  To make a long account short, the papyri was eventually lost, and thought to have been burned The Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  However, two things are of significance here: 1) Smith left facsimile's behind depicting the scrolls, and 2) the scrolls were later discovered to have not been destroyed, with the originals still fully in tact.

Due to the discovery of the Rosetta stone, these papyri have now been translated by scholars dozens of times.  They are certainly not anything written by Abraham, but is instead the writings of ancient Egyptian burial ceremony (much like a funeral service today) known as "The Book of the Dead".

However, this is still a tremendous belief system in the LDS church.  The Book of Abraham is still upheld today as a book written by Abraham himself, and Smith's translation of the document stands.

If discussing this point with an LDS member today, they will likely point to such Bible passages such as, Genesis 1:26 which says, "Let us make mankind in our image."  They defend the counsel of the gods by acknowledging the the Hebrew text of the Old Testament itself using the term "us".  However, the Christian teaching of this passage is that "us" refers to God and his angelic court, or perhaps is an early acknowledgment of the Trinity.  There is much that could be written here, but Christian scholars affirm that it is not an acknowledgment of a plurality of gods.

For more on the Book of Abraham, feel free to check out these resources:
20 Truths About Mormonism

Outside the Book of Abraham, the LDS church teaches that we may become gods ourselves.

The Doctrine & Covenants states:
19 And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, ...Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; ...and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, ...and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.
20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.
21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.
22 For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me. (Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-22)
This is a drastically different teaching than what one would learn from Catholics or Protestants today.   While there are some differences among denominations as to when believers in Jesus Christ will be in heaven with him (Luke 23:43), it is well taught that 1) We will be with Jesus - Phil 1:23, 2 Timothy 4:6  and 2) God will rule over a new heaven and a new earth (we won't rule or become gods over anything ourselves) - Revelation 19-21.

As you can see, these are not minor differences in a belief system, they are quite significant.  We'll discuss more in future posts, concluding with ideas on how to converse with LDS members today about these differences.