Sunday, April 8, 2018

Debating the Sabbath - Doug and Steve Go At It Politely!

On March 30, Amazing Facts hosted a debate about the Sabbath between Pastor Doug Batchelor and Pastor Steve Gregg, a radio pastor there in California.
Adventists used to do this kind of thing a lot back in the late 19th century. It usually didn't result in a lot of conversion since the sides were pretty well drawn among the audiences who showed up for those things. Eventually, SDA ministers gave up doing it, because, though they buried their opponents in scripture, not a lot of hearts seemed to respond to seeing their preacher suffer a theological beat-down. I was curious as to how Pastor Doug was going to handle the debate format.

We watched the debate twice yesterday. My wife had no trouble understanding what Pastor Doug presented, but she got really lost listening to Pastor Gregg. Was he really saying there is no law for "New Testament" Christians, only what they feel the law is in their hearts? She had to listen to it twice and still couldn't follow the intricacies of his argument. I generally find that subtlety of argument is not a common feature of Scripture. Stuff tends to be pretty plain and straightforward. The prophet Habakkuk (Hab. 2:2) was told by God to "Write the vision, and make it plain on tablets, that he who runs may read it." In other words, simple enough for a billboard. While I do enjoy deep theology, at the same time I find it difficult to accept the kind of theological gymnastics that results in it being okay for us to not be "these are they who keep the commandments and have the faith of Jesus," but to just decide whether or not I can skip over commandments I don't care for.

Pastor Gregg pointed out that the ten commandments weren't exactly original and that some version of the law had been enacted by Hammurabi and other ancient rulers.  Pastor Steve seemed that this somehow made the ten commandments less an eternal law and more of a temporary thing God laid on the Jews for a while. The fact that Hammurabi or other ancients were aware of some of the other commandments doesn't mean the ten on stone were derivative.

Of course people were aware of the laws of God prior to Mt. Sinai. We are built as human beings to know that we should not steal, lie, kill or be greedy. It's that God-shaped hole in us that keeps man trying to fill it with gods of His own making. Even the first four commandments can be found in religions pre-dating Sinai, though some of them are arguably much more severe in the penalty phase than the Exodus version. Lately in our culture, we've been trying to shove gods who look like us into that empty space. Many even try to fill that God-shaped hole with themselves. "I am god!" is even used in some of the more ineffective forms of psychotherapy.

Pastor Gregg's concept of the new covenant seems like part and parcel of the original deception in Eden - that our souls are immortal and if we know about good and evil, that's all we need to become little gods ourselves. It follows then that we can make up our own laws if there is no law except some nebulous personal extrapolation of "treat others the way you want to be treated." Reminds me of the 60s when the theme was "If it feels good, do it!"

The law, someone has said, is a teacher. Do we kill the teacher and put the children in charge of the classroom? Pastor Gregg also conflates the law of Moses and the Ten Commandments with the covenants old and new. The covenants were a separate thing from the law. The old covenant was the agreement between the Israelites and God where they agreed to obey the law in their own strength. That covenant was proposed by Israel, not by God. Even then, God meant for them to be bound by the new covenant which was basically, trust me and I will help you obey the law through My strength. The new covenant is restated repeatedly in the Old Testament, but it took Jesus' sacrifice to seal it with his people. It took the death of the Son of God for us to believe what God was offering to us.

I don't believe in magic - that God waves a wand and suddenly we know right from wrong and can think to change times and laws based on our own feelings. People aren't made like that. I do believe in the supernatural - God above nature, outside of time and space and encompassing our physical universe and existence. I believe a relationship with the creator of the universe will change our hearts. It works because we are connected to Him who is beyond nature who draws us upward to Himself. We're just now in the past few decades learning how the human mind works. New therapy techniques look more and more like the kind of things Christians have been doing for two millenia in order to have peace within and to become better people. Jesus, because He is the Creator, understood how our minds work and how to build his church so that what we do helps us become one with the Father and suited to live forever without messing up the universe again.

The law is a critical part of that sanctification process. The ten commandments obviously were in effect prior to Mt. Sinai and remind us of what should have been had we not rebelled in Eden. The Mosaic Law pointed forward to Christ in every detail of its services. When Christ came, he brought us back to the original natural law of God as spelled out in the commandments.

When John said "These are they who keep the commandments," he could have meant no other commandments than the Decalogue, that was written on stone. What is different now is that God has written those commandments upon our hearts this time. We must agree to the terms of the New Covenant in order for that to happen. God says he changes not. I seriously doubt He is going to revise his commandments or revoke them.

Doing away with the Law would seem to me a surrender to Satan's original proposal - that there be no law and everyone gets to be a god and decide for himself what laws to obey. I do not hold to that. And as this philosophy takes hold and the Christian world comes together around the idea that we can change the law and our behavior to suit our own feelings, I aim to misbehave. Already in Europe you can be fined and/or jailed for mowing your grass on Sunday or washing your car. The Protestant churches are beginning to run home to Rome. Meanwhile an "I'm okay/you're okay" theology is gaining ground, while the spiritualists and earth worshippers are infiltrating every corner of our culture and religion.

Do you see it coming?

© 2018 by Tom King

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Lyin' For the Lord - Does Politics "Trump" Religion

I got a post with this copy of a supposed official email the other day. Not sure who sent it, but several friends passed it along asking me to pray because apparently, the Pope had got together with President Trump and the Republican Congress and they were going to pass a National Sunday Law this month. It said that President Ted Wilson was asking all Adventists to pray and have a revival at 7am or 7pm to pray for the latter rain.

It's a fake. Wilson never said such a thing. Praying twice a day might well be a good thing for all Christians, it's sort of a waste if you're praying about something that's not real. It would be like praying God end the famine in America. What would be the point. Our poor people are fat.

I suspect that this post was created by one of our dear Democrat church members who have been losing their minds over Donald Trump's election since 2016.  Now I do know that the Pope is urging all Catholics, Unions, Protestants and Evangelicals to work to pass Sunday Laws in their own countries. They've been doing that for a century now. And he's made headway in places like Europe where you can be arrested for mowing your grass on Sunday in Germany, but then who would actually be surprised that Germany would be the first to fall?  But writing fake stories like the one up there at the top of the page, kind of reminds me of the tactics one of the disciples used to help Jesus along. That did not end well.

I sent word to my friends after I got the post that it was a fake, because I knew they'd want to know. Most of the guys I know are good guys. They are sweet and trusting people that unscrupulous people like to take advantage of to promote whatever religious or political agenda they think isn't being promoted well enough. But none of them ever want to pass along fake stories. We remember the story of Judas too well. I remember the pastor some of the good church members made up lies about because they figured God needed them to get rid of a pastor who preached about righteousness by faith and not enough about the law. Same deal.

I write religious and political weblogs, so I check sources before I pass the info along by habit. I never have figured out how people can make up a lie like that and think it forwards the cause of spreading the gospel. It's very like those hell fire and damnation preachers who think that frightening people into the pews is a good method of winning souls for Jesus. 

These guys seem to think God needs a better propaganda machine or something is all I can figure. Either that or they are working for the father of lies directly. Anyway, when I see this stuff pass through my friends and land in my email or on my timeline, I tell them its a hoax. I try not to hurt their feelings, but I'm certain they would want to know if what they were sending their friends and loved ones was a falsehood.  I almost added "however well-intentioned they might be". The trouble is that the act of making that sort of thing up, thinking to control the narrative on behalf of God, is not well-intentioned.  Judas tried to manipulate events to speed up Jesus' coronation as Israel's king and look how badly that turned out.

My friends usually get this stuff from a dear friend themselves; one who has also been fooled because they got it from a trusted friend and that trusted friend got it from a trusted friend and so on and so on. It's cruel to lie to someone who trusts you and whoever starts these things is the one who is to blame, not those who trusted him. I don't think badly of trusting souls who get fooled by these kinds of holy hoaxes. I try to let them know if they've been taken in by a fake. I actually have a lot of friends who message me once in a while asking if some post they received is legit. I'm happy to tell them. Now if I just could figure out how to gey paid to do that, I'd have a full time job. As it is, I just count it as my good deed for the day. I would have checked the story for myself anyway had it come directly to me.

And I admit, It does give me a little satisfaction to disrupt these people's deceptions. I consider myself and my work as a kind of antibiotic for hoaxes. The disease is an old one, from the first Sunday Law by Constantine to Jonathan Edwards' sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (which I was forced to read in high school literature class) to the 1888 and 2015 General Conferences where data was manipulated "for our own good". Church power brokers have not been above massaging the data and telling stories to manipulate the brethren to do what they want. It's usually about power. 

With some hoaxes, however, it's about feeling superior to the rubes who fall for it. There's a so-called Adventist satire website called "Barely Adventist"* that serves as a source for many of these rumors. They claim to be satire, but unlike actual satire, the stories they write are often more like "gotcha" pieces to see how gullible you are. True satire is broad farce and it's easy to figure out whether or not the information in the story is factual or not. These guys seem to be laughing at any trusting soul who falls for the gag.

I figure I'd hate to be in the shoes of the people who create lies about God at the judgment. The Second Commandment is not about using curse words. It's entirely about taking God's name and place for yourself. Lying to "help" yourself feel powerful or (worse) to improve God's image is what "Take not the name of the Lord thy God in vain," is talking about.

I can hear the dialogue when these guys stand before the throne of God. I figure a lot of them will say something like, "But God, I made up lies to prove your prophecies were right. I made up miracles to prove you were powerful and do miracles. I made up sappy stories to prove you were a loving God. I made up stories to prove that if you just ask, You will make us rich. I made up stories to reveal the gullibility of your sheep that we might laugh at them and they might learn to be as wise as serpents."

And I expect God will say something like, "Depart from me ye workers of iniquity. I don't remember ever hiring a PR guy or a comedian to do evil in My name!"

© 2018 by Tom King

* I deliberately did not include the link to "Barely Adventist". You'll have to Google it yourself. Occasionally, they have something actually funny, but most of the time they merely mock the longing of God's people for His coming and for signs that it is soon. They are in my view the SDA equivalent of the "satire" site Babylon Bee which is also not an actual satire. Both are more like prank sites and I find pranks a cruel kind of humor.

** I went to check on the Barely Adventist site just now and the site was offline. I did not weep.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Threefold Deception

The Devil's Divide and Conquer Strategy for Taking Down the SDA Church

Every issue of the Adventist Review of late seems to have an article about church unity lately. Either that or they are advertising another conference to talk about church unity. To an outside observer the Adventist church would appear to have a unity problem. Already observers in the religious community are gleefully predicting that Adventism will fracture into two or even three factions. I've heard numbers as high as five groups.

I'm not going to dignify that bit of wishful thinking with an answer. Are we having a unity problem. Well, duh!  What organization of people doesn't face "unity" problems. Adventism has had unity problems from it's founding. The church is, itself, and offshoot of the Millerite movement of the early 1800s. We fought to achieve unity through Bible study conferences and with the guidance of God's messenger throughout our formative years.

We faced our first unity crisis in the years between 1888 and 1903 when the message of righteousness by faith was emphasized at the 1888 General Conference. Ellen and James White supported the message as coming from God. Then GC president G.I. Butler, however, resisted the emphasis, believing that emphasizing the law was the correct approach to evangelism. He manipulated the 1888 conference so as to suppress the righteousness by faith message. Sister White was harsh in her criticism of the GC administration warning Butler and his successors against attempting to wield the power of kings and princes over the little flock.  The General Conference asked her to go to Australia as a missionary.

It's interesting that Sister White prayed about the call and never could get an answer from God one way or another. Despite her age, she accepted the call and wound up spending nearly a decade in the land down under, far from the General Conference and it's operations much to their relief. But when she returned, she returned in full voice. At the 1903 General Conference she came out in support of creating Union Conference as a way to decentralize church authority. At one point in the lead up to the conference she publicly stated that she no longer had confidence that the General Conference spoke as the voice of God to the church.

The measure carried in 1903 and the GC administration was placed in a much less powerful position. The new principle from 1903 on was "unity in diversity" and authority was distributed to the unions that had belonged to the GC administration.  The GC has long been uncomfortable operating in that fashion and has steadily attempted to regain some of it's power over the past century. Since the Union Conferences were responsible to the local conferences, the GC created divisions which report to the GC. The GC Working Policy attempted to restore power to Silver Springs. In the San Antonio Conference we saw a repeat of the 1888 General Conference with the proceedings being manipulated to achieve an outcome with which the GC administration was comfortable. More authority was transferred back to the GC. Since San Antonio, we've had a Unity Conference at which retired SDA historian George Knight delivered his memorable paper on church authority and which closed with the issue of unity still not resolved to GC president Ted Wilson's satisfaction. More unity meetings have followed to little effect.

The Devil has initiated a three prong attack on the church designed to divide the faithful.

1. The Orthodox SDA Position
- This group opposes women's ordination and firmly believes the position is Biblical.

2. The Liberal SDA Position - This group thinks the last three SDA Bible Conferences on women's ordination were correct and that women's ordination is not against the teaching of the Bible.

3. The GC Administration Position - This group sees the needs to centralize authority in the General Conference administration in order to maintain church unity.
There is a way to bring the church back to a powerful unity in diversity as was intended and approved by the 1903 GC and Ellen White. 

1.  We need to return authority to local churches, local conferences and union conferences. This will give the church body greater flexibility to address both problems and opportunities. Centralized authority creates an organization that is easier to behead. We are approaching a time when the church will need to be able to operate without a General Conference administration. We need to learn how to do that.

2.  We should redefine the role of the pastor. In the early church, pastors were local elders, chosen by the church and responsible for teaching and with deacons and elders whose job it was to take care of their little flocks.  We call our pastors "elders" for a reason. They might be lay pastors trained to handle administrative issues and to care for their congregations. This can even be a job done by a team of local members. In fact, if you want a fully engaged congregation, what better way than to leave them in charge of their own affairs.

3. We should use our trained ministers the way the apostles were used in the beginning.
They should travel and preach and train the local church pastoral teachers. They might cover a large area of churches and provide guidance and expertise. Our ministers spend too much time sitting in on board meetings and handling the payment of the electric bills.

We need to restructure our system to promote greater autonomy, not less. If a local church wants a woman pastor/teacher, let them choose one. The traveling ministers can travel to churches and preach the word. Let the local pastor/teacher act as administrator. Actually, that could be the job of the head elder. Let our ministers train them in their duties and support them when they need it.

We are to be evangelizing the world in these last days, not squabbling among ourselves about who is permitted to do what. Let God call those to ministry, to deaconship, to church elder, church secretary, music ministry, or youth ministry who He wants to call.

We should be looking to God to lead our local congregations anyway instead of relying on a new pastor every five years. We need to be planting churches and engaging new generations of young people in the ministry of the church. Instead of settled pastors, why not visiting apostles and strong local congregations.

Some worry that local churches with too much authority to care for themselves, might go off the rails. That's when the minister/apostles could step in and provide guidance. Then, when the threefold union is fully accomplished and the church faces persecution, our strong independent churches will be ready to survive, even as authorities seek to take our larger church organization down.

Our leaders will have to trust that God will take care of his church and protect her from evil. It's tempting to think that you personally are holding the church together if you're one of the top guys. We had a prominent church leader throw a temper tantrum in the hall, when he was replaced about thirty years ago. He loudly complained about the church's disloyalty and predicted that things would fall apart without him. He even acted like a recent US president and immediately began to undermine his successor. It was an unworthy exhibition and one I'm sure Sister White would have had a stern message for that leader.

It takes courage for leaders who have worked their way to the top for years to let go of their new-found power and trust the members. Unity through diversity frightens people who believe in strong central authority. They forget that we do have a strong central authority. God our Father is the head of the church. Everyone else serves the church. We need to give up our kings and princes and return to the simpler style of governance that God keeps showing to us - in early Israel and in the early Christian Church.

© 2018 by Tom King


Saturday, February 24, 2018

When the World Cries, "WHY?" How Does the Church Answer

In the wake of events like the mass shooting in Florida last week, everyone always asks, "Why?" This is especially so when there have been children killed and wounded.  What can the church say in the face of such horrors. Is it enough to send up "thoughts and prayers." How do we comfort families who, like Job, cry to God asking "Why?"

First of all, we cannot explain why God allowed such a thing to happen. We don't know why. After all, God sees the end from the beginning. We cannot. So there are always larger issues at play that we cannot even fathom. We have families to protect. God has an entire universe to make safe and secure. Of course we do not understand. How can we?

We can, however, make a pretty good guess as to why young people have taken to shooting up their schools. That used to be pretty rare. Nowadays, not so much. Since the shooting at Parkland High, there have been at least two other planned attacks foiled in just the short time since it happened. They were foiled because people started to pay attention to the signs. One grandmother simply opened up the journal her grandson left sitting out on his desk. He'd been trying to get someone's attention all along, but everyone was too wrapped up in their own problems to notice his distress.

I can offer a two part answer to the question of "Why?"  Not as to why God allowed this terrible tragedy, but as to why it's happening more frequently.
  1. Our young people too often have no spiritual anchor and, let's face it the teen and young adult years of a person's life are emotionally trying. We all remember how hard it was from our own youth. It's why teens and young adults have such an appallingly high suicide rate. Suicide is almost always a cry for attention by a child who is overwhelmed by it all. Suicide says "I am in pain and you aren't fixing it for me!" Kids commit suicide in part to stop their own pain, but also in part to inflict pain on those they see as responsible. They hope by this act to make sure people know they are to blame and feel bad about it.
  2. In our 24 hour media environment, every time a kid shoots up a school he becomes famous for a few weeks. The news media, in effect, broadcasts the shooter's suicide note to millions upon millions of people. It's why such things often happen in clusters. One unbalanced soul sees that another equally unbalanced soul has got a huge amount of attention simply by shooting the people he blames for his trouble.  So, it suggests a way to go out in a big way and make lots of people feel bad for not fixing his problems for him.

The cure is for parents and schools to pay better attention to their children; to give the kids an anchor to hold them steady through the storms of adolescence. The church is uniquely qualified to offer such an anchor.  In our churches we secure the safety of our children by giving them real things to do in the church. We should listen to them sing, let them pass the offering plate, do special music, talk to the elders about what could be done to improve the youth program. We can take them camping, go to the lake for Sabbath School and potluck. Above all, we MUST spend time with them. We must give them a real stake in the life of the church and thus give them an opportunity to meet God and hang out with Godly people.

Rudderless kids often sink into despair. They feel ignored and mistreated and lash out. The difference between now and when kids used to drive to high school with a gun in the gun rack of their pickups without starting a random massacre, is that back in the olden days, such a thing would NOT have got you worldwide attention and your name splashed all over the television, radio and Internet.

Remember Satan's second lie. "Thou shalt be like gods." His first was "Thou shalt not surely die." The media provides both immortality and a godlike ability to wreak vengeance upon your enemies, both at the time of the killings and then over and over and over again for weeks afterward.

Until we stop giving fame to mass shooters, most of whom are trying to commit suicide anyway, this isn't going to stop and the devil knows it. He will use political wrangling over how to stop such shootings to further divide us. One of his favorite tactics is to make us think that somehow there is something we ourselves can do to stop horrors like this. Are we not gods after all? Write a law. Take away all guns. Force people to be good somehow and to stop murdering each other. In all the long history of the world, no law, no disarming of the people, no incentive ever offered has stopped the slaughter. Too often it is the ones writing the laws and taking away the arms that end up committing mass murder. More than 252 million people died in the twentieth century alone, at the hands of governments whose purpose was to make everyone good. No one but God can make everyone good and even He must allow evil men to die in the billions in order to do it.

While we cannot guarantee there will be no further shootings, we can make sure fewer of our children feel so lost and desperate that they feel like killing themselves and others. The truth is, only God can end this and sadly, because of the nature of sin and God's having given us the free will to choose whether or not to sin, we must wait until Jesus comes to fix it.

In the meantime, let us hold our children and young people close. Let us bind them with cords of love. Let us show them, by example, how to make their lives better by focusing their energies and attention on others. 

That's the answer the Church has when the world asks, "Why?"  Love your children better. Stop rewarding despair with publicity. Thoughts and prayers should come before something like this happens, not afterward.

© 2018 by Tom King

Saturday, February 17, 2018

There Is No Switzerland in the War Between Good and Evil

'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.' Exod 20: 7. 

Seventh-day Adventists are intensely aware that there is a war going on in this world. It is sometimes a visible war but often it is an invisible one. It is a war for souls; a war for the hearts and minds of the human race. We call it "The Great Controversy" and it is a war that has been going on since the dawn of time.

The forces of evil are stronger than the forces of good in terms of Earthly power. The good guys are hampered in how we fight that war. We cannot lie, cheat, steal, murder or force our enemy to submit to us. Our commander demands that His conquests surrender voluntarily of their own free will. He requires us to then stand and fight with the rest of His sons and daughters. And that's a serious thing, for while we do not slaughter or coerce those who would harm us, our enemy has no such ethical problem murdering and oppressing the good guys.

Being a Christian is not for the weak. Eleven out of twelve of Jesus' own apostles were murdered by government and religious authorities. The only one to die a natural death was boiled in oil and banished to hard labor on the Roman equivalent of Alcatraz Island. The Apostle Paul came to a violent end as did many other soldiers of Christ throughout history.

I've been watching documentaries about the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. What incredibly brave men. Their stories make clear that there is no neutrality in the war between good and evil. These men were persecuted and died for believing what the Bible said. Their stories demonstrate also that there is no clear demarcation between the enemy and the followers of Christ. The most evil of men may wear the vestments of the church and speak boldly what they claim to be the will of God.

Which brings me to the text I led with. I learned something fascinating about the third commandment the other day from a Jewish media personality named Dennis Prager.  Apparently, the word "take" in the third commandment is a word in Hebrew that more accurately translates as "carry".  I used to think the third commandment was all about cursing. Apparently if I use God's name lightly, he will not forget it or forgive.

Does that sound right to you?

I know! It didn't sound right to me till I examined the verb rendered "take" in most English translations. Carry makes much more sense. One of the things that I find most appalling in the Christian world is the practice of doing bad things and claiming God wanted you to do that. The Roman church did that throughout its history, murdering anyone who challenged its authority or said things it didn't like.

So honest servants of Christ faced not only the wrath of pagans, Mohammedans, and wrathful political powers, but also devils dressed up as servants of God. If you use the word "carry" meaning to carry the name of Christ or to claim to do things in the name of Christ or in God's name and according to His will, then I can well understand why God would deal so harshly with individuals who use His name to justify their own wickedness.

Notice that the choice for good or evil is the only choice we are given. If you choose evil, you can do what you want, when you want, how you want and to whomever you want. If you choose good, you can only do what is right and good and you must leave the rest to God. You must enlist the Army of God (we call them churches) and join the fight.

A lot of young people these days have looked around at churches full of struggling sinners and decided that being one of these soldiers of Christ is not pleasant enough nor comfortable enough and limits them too much. The walk out the back door of their churches and proclaim, "I am spiritual, not religious." They tell us they don't want to be evil or anything, but that church doesn't help them very much so they'll just leave the demands of Christian fellowship behind and go out and be "spiritual" on their own.

The residents of spiritual Switzerland declare themselves neutral in hopes that they can slip through life undisturbed by the Great Controversy, without need to sacrifice, to endure persecution or to put up with hypocrites.  No need to risk having to make the sacrifices we see some Christians make. No need to feel guilty for not "witnessing" or not giving enough to the poor and downtrodden (or the minister's salary). In spiritual Switzerland, residents hope that both God and Satan will leave them alone to fend for themselves. Oh, if a storm comes along or a tornado roars down on their trailer park, they'll condescend to bother God for a little help, but other than that, they hope that if they don't get into a direct conflict with the devil, that he too will leave them alone.

God is pretty clear, however, about Spiritual Switzerland. "Whoever is not with me is against me," said Jesus (Matthew 12:30).  There is no neutrality. The devil may well leave you alone in whatever comfortable place you hole up, but when the end comes, like the servant who hid the talents his master gave him in the ground, he will obtain no reward. It's interesting that the servant's excuse was "'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So in my fear, I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what belongs to you."  The servant didn't want to do anything uncomfortable like invest the gold and work to bring a profit with it. He just put his master's money in a Swiss Bank safe deposit box.

But God says that there is no Switzerland in the Great War Between God and Evil.
Joshua put it this way, "Choose you this day whom you will serve.....but as for me and my house, we will server The Lord." Spiritual Switzerland is apparently in the no-man's land between the two opposing forces. If you've ever seen a no-man's land, you will realize that eventually, nothing is left alive there. Spiritually or otherwise.

© 2018 by Tom King

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Wolves Among the Flock

Men are either wolves or sheepdogs. We are not by nature sheep. We may follow a shepherd but we are wired up to confront danger and stand between our flock, our family and our community and that which would bring them harm. We all choose which we will be. Our church needs sheepdogs for there is evil among us. I was sickened today to read that a volunteer Adventist girl's basketball coach was arrested for filming the girls changing clothes in his office. He's been tossed out of Puget Sound Adventist Academy on his ear and arrested. The good thing is that he was no longer employed by the school and only served as a volunteer. The good thing is that the sheepdogs of the church rose up and put an end to his activities. The bad thing is that once again men in the church find themselves damned by gender and it's not fair. In fact, it's detrimental to our families and our children and young people.

Already, the church has had to resort to background checks and paperwork galore for everyone in the church who volunteers to do anything at all. It's little wonder that many church members hang back from taking on jobs with the church. It's a little scary to risk it, especially if you are a guy. I gave up worrying about it years ago. At first, I figured if God is in charge, I need not fear being falsely accused of some misdeed, especially if I did nothing wrong. Later I discovered that you might well be falsely accused, especially if you do right or speak out about wrongs being done by those who consider themselves superior to the rest of us.

Doing the right thing doesn't mean you won't lose your job or have to move somewhere far away to continue your career. The secret to doing your duty as a male church member is to always do the right thing and trust God to take care of you whatever happens. I've seen two wonderful pastors hurt though they were both doing what was right and doing it with vigor and energy. One was a conference president and a man I respected and admired. The other one served as the pastor of a college church and was a brilliant author and theologian. The conference president shared a plane ride with a woman on her way to New England for cancer treatments. She was frightened and he happened to be going the same way and her family didn't want her to travel alone. His enemies accused him of having an affair and made such a stink they forced him out. Years later, the same bunch set up our local pastor and accused him of sexual impropriety. Ironically, they were opposed to his emphasis on the idea of righteousness by faith. Somehow they decided that subterfuge, lying and character assassination were okay so long as they were attacking someone who wasn't doing what you were certain God wanted Him to do (which was usually what they wanted him to do) .

Ron Halvorsen Sr. was pastor of my church in Keene, Texas. Our head deacon approached him a couple of weeks after he preached his first sermon and told him a committee (The Laymen Actively Concerned) had been organized to get rid of him. Pastor Ron's response was a priceless and a courageously male one.

"Whew," he said wiping his brow. "I was worried there. Usually they have that committee organized by Sabbath afternoon after my first sermon!"  The next week he stood up in front of 1000 church members and said, "I understand that in this church we have some laymen who are actively concerned."

The congregation roared with laughter and the "committee" and the wolves who were its members were effectively defanged and had no further power. Actually, the church rallied behind Pastor Ron and we experienced a burst of church unity like no one had seen in decades. It was breath-taking and more than a little discouraging to our church's figurative graybeards in that it left them without the power of whispering behind back.

The greatest want of the church is, in point of fact, the want of men; men who will not be bought or sold; men who are as true as the needle to the pole. Sister White warned Adventist men that courage would be needed in these last days. We are the defenders of the church and our families and loved ones. We are sheepdogs. We must be vigilant, for the devil our adversary walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.

It's time we men have to stand shoulder to shoulder to defend the flock. We need not fear those who claim power for their own. We need not fear the world. We serve Christ, not the head elder, not the Division president or the General Conference administration. One day soon the world will turn and wonder after the Beast. If we cannot stand now, when the stakes are small, what hope will there be that we will stand when the world turns against us.

God give us courage now to stand for the right.

© 2017 by Tom King

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


I am either an exceptionally honest person who has the ability to see both sides of an issue or I'm without principles. Depends on who you talk to. Those who would divide my church into evil heartless legalists and caring understanding, nurturing, accepting Christians, have a tendency to disallow agreeing with anything on the opposite side of the conservative/liberal wall. Jesus, if you remember, had just that sort of church to deal with at his first coming. Pharisees were conservatives, Sadducees were liberals. The Scribes were like the news media. Their job was to write things down and they were probably just as biased as today's news media.

I found my self agreeing with one article in Adventist Today and disagreeing with another. That's probably a sign that either Adventist Today is unbiased or that I am. One of us must be because I'm a conservative and I'm not supposed to agree with articles of either sort. The first article concerned the rise of authoritarianism in the church leadership (which I'm against) and the other concerned how mean it was not to accept homosexuality as okey dokey (which I'm also against). Though I am against both things, in once case I agreed with the author. In the other I did not.

I've spoken plenty in regard to the first issue. As to the second, I have kept fairly low key. The article entitled "The Violence of a Heartless Theology" by Alicia Johnston appeared in Adventist Today recently. It is a heart-tugging appeal to Adventists to accept the sexuality of Ms. Johnston and others like her. To not "accept" her sexuality, she posits is heartless and cruel and leads to suicide and other negative consequences to people who are members of what progressives and feminist studies professors today call "persons with non sys-normative gender identity".

There are some serious logical fallacies present in Ms. Johnston's argument. I'll try and address them with kindness and understanding. I have friends who struggle with gender identity and, contrary to the way my line of thought is portrayed in the Adventist Today piece, I do care about their feelings and do not wish to cause them unnecessary pain. Their struggle is a real one and deserves our understanding and sympathy.
  1. Begging the Question - In the article Johnston states, "Devaluation of feelings is part of a particular approach to theology and religion." She goes on to claim this "approach" is heartless, cruel and that such an approach is heartless and that scripture gives equal weight to reason and feelings (or spirituality as she calls it). This talking point assumes that feelings and reason are somehow equal in importance to the practice of Christianity. I would argue that we are born with instincts and that through experience and the process of making choices we reason out how we feel about things. More on the neuroscience behind that idea later. At this point I'd like to point out that the argument is a setup to an either/or question which is another logical fallacy (the false dichotomy). Our position on gender identity is not a question of whether or not we accept or reject the value of feelings in the Christian life, though the original statement would try to make it so.
  2. Straw Man Fallacy - Ms. Johnston next makes arguments to support her statement that "It’s common to treat theology like arithmetic and people like CPUs." She backs this up with statements about what "they" think or believe, that is people who believe homosexual behavior is a sin. She sets this mythical "they" up so she can knock them down for their cold-heartedness. This type of magical thinking allows one to assume that if one or two people say something unkind to you, everybody else is thinking it. Unless Ms. Johnston has had a look at the Book of Life, she cannot make such a statement that again sets up a false dichotomy that "they" treat theology like arithmetic and people like computers. You either accept her argument that feelings are as important as reason or you are a cold heartless automaton (made of straw in this case).
  3. Post Hoc/False Cause - Ms Johnston next claims that since "Jesus said that you can tell whether a tree is good or bad by looking at its fruit" then believing that same-sex relationships and transgender identity are sinful proves the tree of your opinion is a bad tree. She then goes about blaming all sorts of statistics related to homosexual and transgenders is caused simply by people not "accepting" a person's alternate sexuality. She blissfully ignores evidence that there might well be a mental disorder behind these consequences that has little or nothing to do with one's acceptance. If I were to claim, for instance, that if we all just "accept" people with bipolar disorder then the problem would be solved, I'd be barking mad. I have two family members with bipolar and accept them and love them both without reservation. One is in prison due to poor choices he made while manic and off his meds. I got three hours of sleep last night because I was up with the other one because she was having a panic attack. It had nothing to do with "acceptance". It has everything to do with having a mental disorder with a physical basis. Mental illness cannot be cured by everybody approving of your sexual lifestyle. Significantly, however, the LGBTQ community has gotten their condition removed from the American Psychological Asssociation's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, effectively halting research into treatment modalities. In essence, the only thing a therapist can do for a person who is homosexual or transsexual or whatever is to tell him to go and have sex with someone. This is quite the opposite of what Jesus told the woman caught in adultery. I'm sure she felt like having sex with the guy she was caught with. Jesus in his compassion forgave her and rebuked her accusers, but, significantly, Jesus did NOT say, "Go and commit adultery some more and feel better about it."  He was very definite that she should act against her very basic instincts and stop doing what she was doing.  In other words, her feelings weren't the issue. It was her choices.
  4. The Bandwagon Fallacy - The statistics she uses to "prove" her bad fruit/bad tree misapplied analogy. The analogy is false since the fruit she is talking about may not be coming from the theological tree she is attacking. She lists suicide rates and homelessness and apologies by conversion therapy groups as evidence that rejecting the Biblical position that homosexual and other nonsysnormative (i.e. deviant) behaviors are sin is the only way to prove you are a good tree and not a bad one.
  5. The Hasty Generalization - Like claims that only religions start wars, the article cites friends who were told that their "sexuality" was a sin then wanted to commit suicide as evidence that this is true across the board. First of all, I know of few people who claim that feelings are a sin. Otherwise every time a sysgender normal guy drove past a billboard with a woman in a bikini on it, he commits a mortal and unforgivable sin. Few Christians think that, although some loud ones admittedly do. It's not the feelings it's the behavior that is at issue and yet many many persons in favor of striking non-heterosexual behavior off the list o' sins seems to make their argument assuming that most people despise gay people. It's just not so anymore than we despise divorcees and adulterers. We still believe that the commandment about being loyal to your spouse is still one you should not violate, we do offer forgiveness and reconciliation. What we do not do is say, "Go and do it again so you'll feel better."
  6. The Non Sequiter - Then there's this statement. "God loves the world deeply, forgives us for our failures to love, and teaches us how to love completely and fully. The fruits of affirming theology certainly are full of love and life. The fruits of non-affirming theology bring harm and suffering."  Sounds great doesn't it? But again it goes back and again creates a straw man built onto a false dichotomy swirled up in a bandwagon fallacy. She leaves out a crucial bit. God does love the world deeply. He sent His Son to die for the world. He does forgive us for our failures and teaches us how to love completely and fully. That's where Ms. Johnston would like to stop, but that's not all God does. He then tells us to "Go and sin no more," and helps us learn to obey. No where does God tell us to obey our feelings. Quite the contrary. He tells us to obey the law. He forgives us when we try and fail, but nowhere have I found a place in scripture where he tells us we can go on sinning if we feel like it, nor does he scratch out any commandments for us because we don't like them.
  7. Begging the question (again) - Ms Johnston finally makes this pronouncement about those who believe homosexual behavior is a sin.  "It’s easy not to involve yourself with those whose lives you judge to be unworthy of the blessings of marriage and church membership." This assumes that the people she is chiding (a group which includes me), do, in fact, judge people who struggle with homosexual feelings to be unworthy of the blessings of marriage and church membership. The truth is, it is most often the person who is gay or transgender who most often rejects church membership or the blessings of marriage of the sort the church offers.

To demand that a church reject it's own beliefs in order to accommodate your personal sins so that you don't have to feel guilty about doing them, is really not fair. If I am a child abuser and see nothing wrong with knocking my kids around, should I demand the church make me a board member? If I like gambling, should I demand the church allow me to set up a floating crap game in the youth department? If I want to attend church in the nude, who am I hurting? Adam and Eve started out naked after all. Our bodies are beautiful. Your prejudice against undressed people hurts my feelings and makes me want to commit suicide. Must the church accommodate.

Jesus offers a place in his kingdom based on two basic requirements - that we love Him and keep his commandments. He even offers to help us keep those commandments by changing our hearts. I can tell you that I didn't "feel" like changing some of my bad habits. Some I'm still working on. I'm heterosexual. I have those kinds of feelings too. Unfortunately, due to health issues, that aspect of my life with my wife has been curtailed severely. I feel like having sex, but can't because it would harm my partner. One can live without it. It's not easy, but having sex is not required to be a fulfilled person. Remember Paul said he had a "thorn in the side" that he was forced to live with. One wonders if that "thorn" was related to his lifelong celibacy. I think Paul showed us how to deal with urges to do things scripture tells us not to do. Peter struggled with his lifelong prejudice against Gentiles. God and the Apostle Paul both reprimanded him. God punished David for his adultery. It didn't matter that David had seen Bathsheba naked and had an "urge". God forgave him horrible things and he submitted. Despite David's struggles with sin, God called David a man after his own heart. That was because David never gave up the struggle.

As to the feeling vs. reason issue, recent advances in psychology and neuroscience have shown that the brain is set up so that if we think out a thing or repeatedly do a thing enough times, we train our feelings to recognize such thoughts or actions as "right". It's the same for physical skills. Swing a baseball bat enough times and you'll come to recognize a good swing by how right it feels when you make one. Jesus understood the human mind and how it can be trained. I've been a Christian for 46 years and studied Scripture daily. I've struggled with old "urges" and behaviors for many years. All these years later, I find that things that appealed to me back in the 70s, no longer whole any appeal for me today. Things feel "wrong" now that once felt natural. It took more than four decades for God to teach me to "do justice" and to "love mercy" and to "walk humbly with my God." I'm not all the way there yet, but it does get easier with time and practice.

I've never considered demanding that the church "accept" my bad language or my short temper. Both things "felt" right because in my youth, before I met Christ, I practiced both a lot and they became natural. Jesus asked me to give up those things and because I love Him and because He has forgiven me my sins, I want to obey Him and please Him. Sin is sin and a thing to be overcome with his help. He will put a new heart and mind in you, but it may take some time. Heart transplants and Neurosurgery are very delicate things. Just because it doesn't happen instantaneously, doesn't mean that it won't. I know many individuals who struggle with homosexuality and have overcome it. It's slow and they get support from their straight friends in the church.

Those who reject people who have "feelings" that betray them into sin are not unique because they are gay. Everyone struggles with impulses to sin. Homosexual lust is not  greater or lesser a sin than heterosexual lust or greed for money or power. It's all one and the same and God can help you overcome your particular sins whatever they are.

And we don't have to change the rules; we only must allow God to change ourselves. Ms Johnston was right about one thing. God does love us and forgives our sins and wants to produce "good fruit". He also wants give us the power to obey and even changes our hearts for us. That seems to be the thing missing from Ms Johnston's argument.

© 2017 by Tom King