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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Church & State: Will Religious Institutions Render Unto Caesar?



    After the U.S. Supreme Court gave its ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, opponents of the ruling began fretting about the possibility that religious institutions might have to pay federal taxes should they maintain a private ban on same-sex marriage.

     A New York Post editorial states, "The ruling may throw into question issues like tax exemptions for some religious groups that refuse to recognize same-sex marriage."

     The day after the Court's ruling, the Tulsa World newspaper published a story that discusses the tax exemption enjoyed by religious institutions. Here is the beginning of that story:

"Many Christian colleges and universities, including Oral Roberts University in Tulsa and Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville, have codes of conduct for their students and employees that forbid sexual relations outside of traditional marriage. 
As had been expected, on Friday the U.S. Supreme Court voted to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. 
How that decision will affect the enforcement of those codes of conduct is a growing concern to officials in Christian colleges, according to Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan, which has a Tulsa campus.
“A lot of Christian college leaders are concerned and frightened,” Piper said this week. 
Their biggest fear, he said, is that they will be forced to choose between staying true to their biblical values and losing their tax-exempt status, a loss that to most schools would be devastating."
     That Christian institutions fret over taxation is odd considering what the Bible says about it. The New Testament book of Matthew contains the following passage pertaining to the paying of taxes:

"Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him [Jesus] in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” "

     Every piece of American paper money has on it the words "Federal Reserve Note", indicating that the money was issued by the federal government, just as the likeness and inscription of Caesar on the First-Century denarius indicated that the denarius was issued by the ancient Roman Empire.

     If Jesus told people to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, then why would Christian institutions balk at paying taxes to the federal government if required to?

(Whether or not religious institutions should pay federal taxes is a topic for a separate discussion.)

Bible Quote Source:  Matthew 22:15-21
Scripture quotation is from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Featured Image is a combination of two public-domain images located in the Wikipedia Commons at the following web addresses:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5e/002_Augustus.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a3/005_Tiberius.jpg






Sunday, June 28, 2015

God & Science

     

     The relationship between theism and science has been debated for generations. All too often, people are given the impression that one cannot believe in the existence of God and at the same time believe what science says about nature. In reality, science does not require atheism, as indicated by the following statements by scientists.

     Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist: “Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings and values –subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate but can never resolve.”
   
     “Darwin did not use evolution to promote atheism or to maintain that no concept of God could ever be squared with the structure of nature. Rather, he argued that nature’s factuality, as read within the magisterium of science, could not resolve, or even specify, the existence or character of God, the ultimate meaning of life, the proper foundations of morality, or any other question within the different magisterium of religion.”

     “The universe, for all we know, may have an ultimate purpose and meaning . . . and these ultimates may be set by a rational transcendent power legitimately called God, but the resolvable subject matter of science falls into another realm below the purview of such philosophical (and probably unknowable) generalities.”


     Ian G. Barbour, nuclear physicist: “Another way of separating theological from scientific assertions is the distinction between primary and secondary causality, which is common in Catholic and neo-orthodox thought. God as primary cause is said to work through the secondary causes of the natural world that science studies. God is omnipotent and uses natural laws to achieve particular goals. Primary causality is on a totally different level from the interactions among entities in the world.”


     Kenneth R. Miller, biologist: “Does evolution really nullify all world views that depend on the spiritual? Does it demand logical agnosticism as the price of scientific consistency? And does it rigorously exclude belief in God? These are the questions that I will explore in the pages that follow. My answer, in each and every case, is a resounding ‘no’.”

     “My friends and colleagues in nonscientific disciplines will often claim science as their authority. Clearly they believe that scientific inquiry has ruled out the divine. Unfortunately for them, as I will argue, nothing of the sort is true. Their attitude towards religion and religious people are rooted not so much in science itself as in the humanist fabric of modern intellectual life.”


     Mark Buchheim, biologist: “Science is indeed a powerful tool, but science is, by default, mute with regard to anything outside the natural world. The late Stephen J. Gould introduced the concept of NOMA, or non-overlapping magisteria, to describe how science and faith co-exist in “mutual humility.” The point I’m making here is that science, stripped of any philosophical assumptions about the exclusivity of the natural world, can tell us nothing about our faith. Therefore, anyone who tries to link an acceptance of evolutionary theory with atheism or agnosticism is promoting a false dichotomy.”


     Mark A. Foster, sociologist: “Because a scientist recognizes the operational limitations of science does not make her or him an atheist.”

     “Like virtually all scientists (physical, biological, or social), I am a methodological naturalist. However, I am not an atheist (an ontological naturalist). As a methodological naturalist, I reject that science can be used to demonstrate the existence of God. I do not reject that the existence of God can be demonstrated through other means.”

     “There is as much evidence for evolution (most of it genetic) as there is for the heliocentric model of the solar system (that the sun, not the earth, is its center). There is no other side of the coin. Accepting evolution, however, does not mean that one rejects of God or the soul.”


     Scientists are not the only people who acknowledge the fact that atheism is not a requirement of science. Non-theist philosophers also acknowledge it.


     John Wilkins, agnostic philosophy professor: “A final form of naturalism is ontological naturalism. This is the opinion that all that exists is natural. Many scientists are also physicalists. They argue that if we do not need to postulate the reality of non-physical processes for science, then we can conclude that there are no such things. This argument is too quick. The claim that ‘if A then B’ explains B may be true, but there may also be a C that explains B. Moreover, many things in the physical world are cause by many things together rather than just a few. So, we might say that a physical event is caused by both God and by physical causes, without being logically inconsistent.”


     Keith Augustine, atheist philosopher: “In utilizing methodological naturalism, science and history do not assume a priori that, as a matter of fact, supernatural causes don't really exist. There is no conceptual conflict between practicing science or history and believing in the supernatural.”


     In short, a person can believe in God and still be a good scientist.




Quote Sources [In order of appearance]

Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of ages: Science and religion in the fullness of life (Ballantine: 1999), p. 4.

Ibid., p. 192.

Ibid., p. 199.

Ian G. Barbour, When science meets religion (HarperSanFrancisco: 2000), p. 19.

Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin’s god (Cliff Street Books: 1999), p. 17.

Ibid., p. 19.

Mark Buchheim, “Letter to the editor: an educated response”, The Collegian Online (University of Tulsa: 2005), http://www.utulsa.edu/collegian/article.asp?article=2569 .

Mark A. Foster, “The Captain’s Personal bLog”, My Looking-Glass Selves (Sociosphere: 2001), http://editorials.sociosphere.com/arc20020301.html .

Ibid.

Ibid.

John Wilkins, Naturalism: Is it necessary? (TalkOrigins: 1997), http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/naturalism.html .

Keith Augustine, Naturalism (Infidels: 2009), http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/naturalism/ .


Public-Domain Image Source: 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/42/Edison_in_his_NJ_laboratory_1901.jpg


Friday, June 26, 2015

Social Justice is an oxymoron.

   

    A common cause of the Religious Left is something that they call "social justice". According to the Christians of the Religious Left, social justice is a part of the Gospel message.  I disagree with that claim.


     To understand why I disagree with the Religious Left, one merely has to read the commentary The Injustice of Social Justice written by Templeton Fellow Ben O'Neill. Here is what O'Neill has to say about the promoters of social justice.

For such people, the notion of "rights" is a mere term of entitlement, indicative of a claim for any possible desirable good, no matter how important or trivial, abstract or tangible, recent or ancient. It is merely an assertion of desire, and a declaration of intention to use the language of rights to acquire said desire.

In fact, since the program of social justice inevitably involves claims for government provision of goods, paid for through the efforts of others, the term actually refers to an intention to use force to acquire one's desires. Not to earn desirable goods by rational thought and action, production and voluntary exchange, but to go in there and forcibly take goods from those who can supply them!
     Nowhere does the New Testament promote the idea of making the government take away one person's goods and giving them to another person. What the New Testament promotes is the voluntary donation of one's goods in order to aid people trapped in poverty. 


     The irony about the Religious Left's demand for "social justice" is that it can result in keeping people trapped in poverty. Forcibly taking goods from those who can supply them results in the loss of economic freedom, which is necessary for people to rise out of poverty.

Scriptures That Aren't



     Several years ago, I became amused while reading a letter to the editor of a newspaper. The letter began, "Because the Bible says that cleanliness is next to godliness . . ."

     The entire letter was based on the writer's belief that the expression "Cleanliness is next to godliness" is somewhere in the Bible. However, it is not there. That letter to the editor was based on a false belief.

     I was reminded of that letter when I read the article "Actually, that's not in the Bible" written by CNN reporter John Blake.  In the article Blake discusses phantom Bible verses and their origins.

If nothing else, Blake's article should be a wake-up call to people who claim that they adhere to the Bible's teachings.

* * * * * * *
Featured Image is in the Public Domain.

Featured Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_manuscript#/media/File:Bible.malmesbury.arp.jpg


Christianity is not a political system.


     Every now and then, a Townhall.com columnist will equate the Christian faith with her or his particular political beliefs.


     One example of such equating is the Townhall.com column "Tea Party Report: I Met a 15-Year-Old Christian Girl With More Nerve Than Most Ministers" written by Doug Giles.  In the column, Doug Giles says, "Somehow, somewhere pastors have decided not to speak out against political corruption and instead retreat into their quaint Christian ghetto on the sidelines of life and remain silent as our nation sinks into socialism."


     Well, I have news for Mr. Giles.  Nowhere in the New Testament is socialism forbidden.  Indeed, the New Testament neither endorses nor forbids any kind of civil government.  Like it or not, the New Testament is politically neutral.


     Please don't get me wrong.  I am opposed to the USA being turned into the United Socialist States of America.  I enjoy the rights that I have under the U.S. Bill of Rights, and want the federal government to abide by the Tenth Amendment.


     Yet, I keep in mind that my constitutional rights aren't biblical rights.  Despite what the Declaration of Independence says, nowhere in the Bible does God grant unalienable rights such as "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".   The only right mentioned in the Bible is the one mentioned in the first chapter of the New Testament book of John, and that right is purely a spiritual right, not an earthly right. 


     A promotion of political causes isn't the same thing as a promotion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the latter - not the former - is the job of pastors.  Apparently Doug Giles has forgotten that fact.


There is nothing wrong with a Christian supporting a particular political cause.  However, there is something wrong with a Christian getting a political cause confused with the cause of the Christian faith.  Getting the two confused helps neither.

Deliver Us from Evil



     In Ephesians 6:11-12 the Apostle Paul writes, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”(ESV)

     Residents of the USA, in general, don’t encounter evil on a daily basis. As a result, they live as if evil were not real. Then, evil rears its ugly head in a dramatic way, such as when individuals use firearms to massacre people in a shopping center, a movie theater or a school, or when individuals use bombs to maim or kill people.

     How people respond to such displays of evil varies. Some people overlook the evil that produced such events and instead focus on the means that was used to carry out the events. Some people overlook the evil and instead seek things that may mitigate the responsibility for the evil actions.

     In contrast, Jesus taught people to pray “deliver us from evil”, not “deliver us from weapons” or “deliver us from poverty or anything else that might result in having a bad childhood”. 

     We need to respond to evil by praying the way that Jesus taught, not by putting into practice the expression “See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil.”


Gay vs. God?



     Nowhere in the Bible do I see it said that the mere possession of homosexual feelings is the unpardonable sin. Indeed, a person who has homosexual feelings does not necessarily choose to have them. 

     Nowhere in the Bible do I see it said that a person with homosexual feelings cannot receive the free gift of eternal life offered through faith in Messiah Jesus.

     Here is what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 10:9-13 (NIV) :

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

     In short, a person who has homosexual feelings does not have to stop having those feelings in order to be born again, in order to be a Christian.

     Granted, the Apostle Paul describes sexual activity between two people of the same gender as being sinful (to put it mildly). However, there is a difference between behavior and feelings. A person can feel the desire to do something that is sinful and still refrain from doing it.

     If Christians with heterosexual feelings can make the mistake of engaging in sexual sin and then have their sin forgiven after they repent, then Christians with homosexual feelings can receive forgiveness for any sexual sin on their part if they repent. 

The Genesis Flood




     Plenty of leaders of modern-day Western churches believe that every detail of every verse in Genesis is literally true. However, this belief is not universally accepted by Jewish and Christian theologians. The ancient Hebrews did not think the same way that modern-day Western people think, and the book of Genesis is of ancient Hebrew origin. So, modern-day theologians take into consideration the way that the ancient Hebrews interpreted Genesis.
  
     Regarding the proper way to interpret ancient Hebrew writings, Christian theologian William Barclay quotes Old Testament scholar Rev. C.J. Ball as saying the following:

“The Rabbi embodies his lesson in a story, whether parable or allegory or seeming historical narrative; and the last thing he or his disciples would think of is to ask whether the selected persons, events and circumstances which so vividly suggest the doctrine are in themselves real or fictitious. The doctrine is everything; the mode of presentation has no independent value. To make the story the first consideration, and the doctrine it was intended to convey an afterthought as we, with our dry Western literalness, are predisposed to, is to reverse the Jewish order of thinking, and to do unconscious injustice to the authors of many edifying narratives of antiquity.”[1] 
  
     Barclay adds, “This is to say that Jewish teachers were more concerned with truth than with fact. They are not interested in the momentary historical events of any story; they are interested only in the eternal truth which the story is designed to illuminate and to convey.”[2] 
  
     Jewish theologian Gunther Plaut writes, “The contemporary reader familiar with the history and the nature of the text will have to remember that a literal translation of the Torah may lead to grave misconceptions. Even the ancient Jewish sages, who believed that the Torah was a divinely authored book, did not take the text literally.”[3]
  
     Jewish theologian Nahum Sarna writes, “The literalist approach serves to direct attention to those aspects of the narrative that reflect the time and place of its composition, while it tends to obscure the elements that are meaningful and enduring, thus destroying the biblical message and destroying its relevancy.”[4]
  
     Indeed, modern-day Christian clergy don't insist on a strict literal interpretation of every Old Testament verse. For example, Joshua 10:12-13 states the following:

"At that time Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day."
  
     The above verses say that the Sun stood still, reflecting the ancient belief that the Sun revolved around the Earth. We now know that the Earth revolves around the Sun. We understand that the above verses reflect how things appeared to Joshua, and yet we also understand that, if any celestial body stopped moving, then it was the Earth, not the Sun.
  
     So, if a strict literal interpretation is not applied to a Bible verse, then the verse can still be authoritative and teach a spiritual truth. Although the Sun did not literally stand still in Joshua 10:12-13, that passage still tells us that God is in full control of events, and that God used his omnipotence to help the Israelites defeat the Amorites in combat. It didn't matter which celestial object (if any) actually stood still. What mattered is that the God of Israel was the one responsible for the miracle, and the God of Israel was glorified as a result.
  
     Regarding the flood story in the book of Genesis, as German science reporter Werner Keller details in his book The Bible as History, plenty of archaeological evidence exists that ancient Mesopotamia was subjected to extensive flooding, with traces of such flooding reaching all the way to the city of Nineveh.[5]
  
     In 1929, British archaeologist Sir Charles Leonard Woolley was leading an archaeological dig at the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, when Woolley and his workers unexpectedly discovered evidence that the region around Ur had been subjected to a massive flood. Keller writes, “According to Woolley the disaster engulfed an area north-west of the Persian Gulf amounting to 400 miles long and 100 miles wide, looking at the map we should call it today “a local occurrence” – for the inhabitants of the river plains it was however in those days their whole world.”[6]
  
     As seen in Joshua 10:12-13, a story in the Old Testament can contain a detail that is not scientifically accurate because of the perspective of the story-teller, and, yet, the story can still be about an event that actually occurred. Thus, the flood story in Genesis could be about a flood that actually happened even if the perspective of the story-teller was not scientifically accurate. As explained by previously-cited theologians, according to the way that the ancient Hebrews thought, every little detail of a story did not have to be literally true in order for the spiritual lesson of the story to be true.
   
     Today, plenty of Christians do not accept as being literally true the description in Joshua:12-13 of the Sun standing still. Likewise, plenty of Christians do not accept as being literally true the description in Genesis of the entire Earth being covered by a single flood, because empirical data does not give evidence of a global flood.
  
     What all Christians do accept as being literally true are the death, burial and resurrection of Christ Jesus, historical events that took place within a period of three days. Nothing in science does away with those events.
  
     So, one does not have to believe that the entire Earth was literally covered by a flood in order for one to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

     Sadly, some naive Christians have been bamboozled by so-called "scientists" who insist that the geological record proves that a global flood took place. Actually, the geological record proves no such thing.  Those so-called "scientists" violate the rules of science by insisting that a scientific finding or theory must pass a religious litmus test. Because they insist that the Genesis flood must have been global (because of how they interpret Genesis), they dismiss all geological evidence to the contrary.

     Such "scientists" err because they have an ethnocentric understanding of the Bible, which is a common flaw among modern-day Westerners.

     Getting modern-day Westerners to be aware of their ethnocentrism is a chore in itself.




[1] William Barclay, The Mind of Christ (Harper & Row: 1961), p. 79.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Gunther Plaut, Torah Commentary (Union of American Hebrew Congregations: 1981), p. xx.
[4] Nahum Sarna, Understanding Genesis (Melton Research Center of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America: 1966), p. 66.
[5] Werner Keller, The Bible As History (Barnes & Noble Books: 1995), p. 49.
[6] Ibid., p. 48.

The Once-Saved-Always-Saved Fuss

     


     I, for one, have decided that God alone knows if a person is permanently saved.

     Because God is omnipotent and sovereign, if He wants to, then He can make it so that a person is permanently saved. Who am I to deny that God has the ability and the authority to do such a thing? What requires us mere mortals to understand why God would do such a thing before He can do it?

      Because God is omnipotent and sovereign, if He wants to, then He can permit a saved person to become unsaved again. Who am I to deny that God has the ability and the authority to do such a thing? What requires us mere mortals to understand why God would do such a thing before He can do it?

     I prefer to say, "I do not know," than to argue about something that I don't need to argue about.  Must I know the answer to a spiritual mystery before I can do the work that God has given me to do?

The Trouble with Traditions

     In the New Testament we read accounts about the criticism that Jesus received from the Pharisees. They criticized Jesus in part because he and his disciples did not follow their traditions (Matthew 15). It is easy for modern-day Christians to scoff at the traditions of the Pharisees. Yet, modern-day Christians have their own traditions, and those traditions do not necessarily conform to what the Bible teaches.

     For example, at one time Christians in the USA were told that each Christian receives a mansion as a heavenly reward. This belief was based on the KJV Bible’s use of the word mansions in John 14:2. Unfortunately, what the word mansion meant in 17th-Century England is not what the word means in the USA. When the KJV Bible was first published, the word mansion referred to a room within a house. In the USA, the definition of mansion was changed. Instead of referring to a room within a house, the word now referred to a large luxurious house with numerous rooms. So, when Christians in the USA were told that they had mansions waiting for them in Heaven, they believed that each of them would receive a large luxurious house with numerous rooms, which is not what John 14:2 teaches.
  
     Although the mansion-in-Heaven tradition has faded with time, another inaccurate church tradition still continues. It is the claim that Moses parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could cross it. This tradition is based on an inaccurate translation of the ancient Hebrew name Yam Suph. The literal translation of Yam Suph is Sea of Reeds, which is the translation still used by rabbis. Rabbi Sam Shor writes, “The parting of the Sea of Reeds left such an indelible mark on the Jewish conscience, that even after the Jewish People had traversed the Sea and had seen the cessation of this supernatural event, they were acutely aware of the presence of G-d, even in the subtle, less obvious miracles that occur each and every day.”[1]
  
     In a research paper published by American Scientific Affiliation (a Christian organization), geologist William Tanner uses both biblical and geological data to explain why the correct translation of Yam Suph is Sea of Reeds instead of Red Sea. Tanner also explains why the Sea of Reeds is not the Red Sea, but instead is another, smaller body of water within Egypt. Tanner concludes his paper with the following commentary:
“One of the most interesting aspects of this discussion is not whether “Sea of Reeds” is correct (it is, as is easy to verify), but rather why translators continue to use “Red Sea,” when the manuscripts provide a totally different identification, and when the additional details in the available sources require “Sea of Reeds” and do not permit “Red Sea.” How is it that, in many versions, the correct rendition can be given in footnotes, but not in the main text? How does a scholar justify a deliberate switch? And how does the reader, who has no access to the ancient languages, know which version is correct?”[2]

     Church traditions pertaining to mansions and the Red Sea are flawed but not necessarily destructive. Sadly, another tradition has been destructive. It is a tradition which says that English-speaking Christians must use the King James Version of the Bible only. Thankfully this particular tradition has been rejected by numerous churches. However, the tradition has caused harm to churches that have come under the tradition’s influence. In his book The King James Only Controversy, James R. White makes the following statement:
“Responsibility must be laid at the door of the KJV Only camp for the destruction of many Christian churches. Church splits have taken place as the direct result of the influence of KJV Only materials on elders, deacons, and other influential members. Many pastors have become quite wary of these materials, having experienced great troubles at the hands of those who become mesmerized by the KJV Only cry.”[3]

     The three aforementioned traditions are just a sample of the traditional teachings found in some churches. Although they are flawed, the aforementioned traditions were given life by pastors and other religious teachers, and ill-informed church members accepted the traditions without question. 

     That is the trouble with church traditions. They can take root even if they are flawed because pastors and other religious teachers promote the traditions, and pastors and other religious teachers are just as carnal and flawed as the people who sit in church pews. For this reason, we need to use critical thinking when reading or hearing what pastors and other religious teachers have to say. James R. White says it best:
“We all have our traditions. Yes, even those who claim to “go by the Bible alone” have their traditions, and the more aware we are of our traditions, the more fully we can test them by Scripture. Those who are blind to their own traditions are the least likely to be fully biblical in their beliefs. We all must constantly test our faith by Scripture, and we must pray for a willingness to abandon those beliefs that are found to be contrary to God’s revealed truth.”[4] 




[1] Sam Shor, “Making the most of Miraculous Moments; Celebrating the Gift of G-d’s Incredible Kindness...”, Timely Torah (Isralight: 2006), http://isralight.org/assets/Text/RSS_yomyerushalayim06.html .

[2] William F. Tanner, Did Israel Cross the Red Sea? (The American Scientific Affiliation: 1998), http://www.asa3.org/asa/PSCF/1998/PSCF9-98Tanner.html .

[3] James R. White, The King James Only Controversy (Bethany House: 1995), p. V.
[4] Ibid., pp. VII-VIII.

Free Will vs. Predestination


     Christians tend to be debaters when it comes to questions pertaining to orthodox theology. One theology debate taking place pertains to the concepts of predestination and free will. The concept of free will is emotionally appealing, while the concept of predestination isn’t. However, orthodox theology isn’t supposed to be based on what is emotionally appealing. Orthodox theology is supposed to be based on what the Bible says. A case in favor of either predestination or free will has to have strong biblical support. So what does the Bible say about the concepts of predestination and free will?

     The first concept to be examined is predestination.

     Jesus made a few statements that seem to support the predestination position. The first statement is found in John 6:44, in which Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

     The second statement is one that Jesus makes in John 6:63: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”

     The third statement by Jesus is John 6:65: “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

     The fourth statement is what Jesus says in John 17:6: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”

     Christ’s words indicate that if a person becomes a Christian, it is because God drew that person to Jesus. God the Father gave that person to Jesus.  God the Father made the first move.

     The Apostle Paul directly introduces the doctrine of predestination. Here is what Paul says in Romans 8:29-30:
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined, he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

     Then there is what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 9:14-24:
“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—  even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”

     The Apostle Paul mentions God choosing which Jews would obtain salvation. In Romans 11:5 Paul states, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.”

     The Apostle Paul makes reference to the time when God hardened the heart of Pharaoh. In Exodus 4:21 God tells Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” In this verse God says that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart. If such a thing isn’t the manipulation of a person’s will, then what is?

     Now does God predestine everything? Does He control people as if they are robots? No. People do have a limited ability to make choices. In Joshua 24:15 Joshua tells the Israelites, “If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve. . .”

     Yes, people have the ability to make choices, but their choices are limited by their spiritual condition. In Romans 6:17-18 Paul writes, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

     A slave doesn’t have unlimited free will. The slave’s master limits a slave’s choices. An unsaved person seeks to fulfill the desires of the flesh because the flesh is the master. Some people would say that Satan is the master. In Romans 8: 7-8 the Apostle Paul writes, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

     These Bible verses indicate that God has to initiate a change in a person in order for that person to desire salvation through faith in Jesus. Romans 9:10-24 indicates that God can decide who will be drawn to Jesus and who won’t be.

     Now the case for free will shall be examined.

     Proponents of free will often cite what the Apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

     How is Peter’s statement to be interpreted? Taken by itself, Peter’s statement appears to support free will because Peter says “all”. However, when Peter says “all”, he could be referring to the “fullness of the Gentiles” that Paul mentions in Romans 11:25.

     What about John 3:16? Does this verse support the free will concept? After all, the verse says that God loves the World. However, people might be giving this verse an ethnocentric interpretation. When Jesus walked on the Earth, the Jews believed that God’s love and mercy were reserved exclusively for them. The Jews abhorred the idea that God might be merciful toward Gentiles. The Jews in Nazareth demonstrated this fact by the way they reacted to Jesus when He preached in His hometown synagogue. Luke 4:22-29 says the following:
“And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph's son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.”

     Jesus’ sermon was going well until He mentioned that God had previously shown mercy to a couple of Gentiles. At that point the Jews were filled with the desire to kill Him.

     In short, when Jesus said that God loved the World, Jesus was saying that God’s love was for Gentiles as well as for Jews. He wasn’t preaching the free will concept.

     What about Revelation 3:20? Does this verse support the free will concept? Here is what Jesus says in this verse: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

     Jesus says, “If any one hears my voice . . .” Can a spiritually deaf person hear the voice of Jesus? In Romans 11:7-8 the Apostle Paul writes, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’ Spiritual deafness has to be eliminated in order for a person to hear the voice of Jesus. Do spiritually dead people have the ability to eliminate their own spiritual deafness? The Bible doesn’t say that they can.

     Sometimes someone will claim that a certain Bible verse implicitly supports free will. Yet, upon examination the verse has nothing to do with free will. For example, it has been claimed that Mankind has free will because Mankind is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and God has free will. This deductive argument is non sequitur. If we were to take this argument to its logical conclusion, then we would have to say that Mankind has all of God’s attributes, such as omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence and complete sovereignty. Does Mankind have all of God’s attributes? No, Mankind doesn’t.

     Sometimes people will claim that the only way that God will be glorified is if people are free to choose whether they will have a relationship with God. People claim that predestination can’t glorify God. What Bible verses support such claims? How do we know what will glorify God? Do we think the same way that God thinks? No, we don’t. In Isaiah 55:8-9 God says the following:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

     Does God ever do things that appear to us to not glorify Him? Yes, He does. In Exodus 4:11 God tells Moses, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” Now how does God bring glory to Himself by making people blind, deaf and mute? How does God bring glory to Himself by giving people “a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear (Romans 11:8)”? The human mind doesn’t understand how, but God understands.

     God has the ability and authority to do things that will glorify Him, even if we don’t understand how those things will glorify God. He doesn’t need our understanding before He can do such things.

     Regarding predestination, if it glorifies God, then it doesn’t matter if we don’t understand how it does. If predestination glorifies God, then it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t appeal to our flesh. Nothing requires God to do things that appeal to our flesh.

     In summary, a biblical case can be made for the concept of predestination. Several Bible verses explicitly support the concept. Granted, predestination doesn’t appeal to the flesh, but the ways of God don’t have to appeal to the flesh.

     Regarding free will, perhaps a case can be made for it. However, a case for free will can’t be based on emotional appeal; it can’t be based on what tickles the ears. It has to be based on Bible verses that explicitly support the concept of free will. The verses shouldn’t be ambiguous, allowing for more than one interpretation. If deductive arguments are made, then the arguments must have premises that are true. Furthermore, a case for free will needs to explain the Bible verses which support the concept of predestination.

     It does not help for supporters of the free-will doctrine to create a false dichotomy, one which says that God must give people either unlimited free will or absolutely no free will. Such a false dichotomy wrongfully rules out God’s ability to give people limited free will. If God is sovereign and omnipotent, then He has the ability and authority to give people limited free will if He chooses to do so.  It would be a mistake to claim that mere sinners are capable of knowing every choice that God makes or will make, because such a claim would contradict what God says in Isaiah 55:8-9.

     Regardless of which concept that one supports, either predestination or free will, one needs to remember the warning that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 13:2: “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

[All Scripture quotes are taken from the ESV Bible.]

The Confederate Flag Debate



     Currently in the USA, people are debating the fate of the Confederate battle flag, which has been displayed on government property in various states.

     What is bewildering about the debate is that it involves people who defend the display of that flag, and some of those people claim to be Christians.

     It is as if those Christian defenders of the Confederate flag are oblivious to the evil that the flag represents.

     Yes, racial discrimination is evil, as well as race-based slavery. The Confederacy of the 19th Century was created in order to preserve such evil.

     Then again, that evil flourished in the southeastern USA because the white Christians there (in general) decided to serve two masters.

     Prior to the USA becoming an sovereign nation, Englishmen decided to use slave labor in their North American colonies because their love of mammon was greater than any alleged love for God.

     That such slavery was evil was acknowledged in a rough draft of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which says that England's King George III had "waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them to slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportations thither."

     After the USA won its independence, abolitionists succeeded in getting rid of slavery in the northern states thanks in part (if not completely) to the Christians living there who saw that the institution of slavery violated the commandments of God.

     Meanwhile, white Christians in the southern states (in general) accepted the continuation of slavery. This act of conforming to the world was carried on after slavery ended, with white southern Christians continuing to support racial discrimination.

     When Congress began working on (and passing) civil-rights legislation in order to end racial discrimination, white southerners began displaying the Confederate flag as a symbol of defiance, sending the message that they would fight to prevent black Americans and other minorities from having the same rights as white Americans.

     That is the heritage that the Confederate flag represents, a heritage being defended by some people who claim to be Christians.

     When love of heritage becomes more important than love of God, something is wrong.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Back to Blogging Here



     I have been away from this blog for the last two years because I started writing for another blog that actually has readers other than me.

     I have decided that I would rather write for an earthly audience of one and be able to freely express myself than write for a multitude without being able to share all that I believe. So, I have reactivated this blog for the time being.