Sunday, March 21, 2021

What angels long to look into

 


“It was not always so. Once we knew the Oyarsa of your world—he was brighter and greater than I—and then we did not call it Thulcandra. It is the longest of all stories and the bitterest. He became bent. That was before any life came on your world. Those were the Bent Years of which we still speak in the heavens, when he was not yet bound to Thulcandra but free like us. It was in his mind to spoil other worlds besides his own.  He smote your moon with his left hand and with his right he brought the cold death on my harandra before its time; if by my arm Maleldil had not opened the handramits and let out the hot springs, my world would have been unpeopled. We did not leave him at large for long. There was Great War, and we drove him back out of the heavens and bound him in the air of his own world as Maleldil taught us. There doubtless he lies to this hour, and we know no more of that planet: it is silent. We think that Maleldil would not give up utterly to the Bent One, and there are stories among us that He has taken strange counsel and dared terrible things, wrestling with the Bent One in Thulcandra. But of this we know less than you; it is a thing we desire to look into.” Out of the Silent Planet C.S. Lewis

“It was revealed to them [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves , but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1: 12)

The music below is from the great Welsh revival- Here is Love—words first in Welsh and then English. It is into the death and resurrection of Jesus that the angels long to look and surely do look. But only sinful humanity can truly understand. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Restoring the Church? New Revelations? the Problem

 


Over thirty years ago I researched and wrote on a movement called “Restoration.” It was a movement that contained both reasonably orthodox believers and wildly heretical teachers and preachers. Even among those who were orthodox there existed some very peculiar beliefs. And it was troubling that out of this movement some extreme doctrines had formed. I actually began my research when exploring another movement “The Manifest Sons of God.” They were a group of teachers and preachers, with many connections to Restoration, they taught that within the Church is a group of people who will overcome death, before the second coming of Christ, and supposedly save the Church during the tribulation. At the very edge of this latter movement I discovered the “Christian Identity Movement,” a group believing that the Anglo-Saxons are the only true Jews—the tribulation battle that would come would be a race war. This is the road map of declining truth as it moves into utter falseness and evil.

Recently I read an article In the Religious News Service about Sean Feucht, the man who has been going around the United States holding outdoor worship services. The article, “There’s a theology driving Sean Feucht’s worship music protests — and it’s a popular one,” written by Adam Perez. The author to my surprise points to the Restoration Movement.  Perez writing of the kind of worship and theology Feucht uses states:

The core of this theology is that praise and worship manifests God’s presence. Liturgical historian Lester Ruth has traced this theology back to a Pentecostal preacher named Reg Layzell in 1946 who popularized the idea that “God inhabits praise,” based on Psalm 22:3, which, in the KJV translation, reads: “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.”

By the late 1970s, a rich and diverse biblical theology had developed around this and other teachings as they related to a present-day restoration of musical worship modeled after the liturgical patterns instituted in the tabernacle of King David (1 Chronicles 15).

So in this posting I am going to renew my Restoration article. However since I have recently discovered groups of house churches, they call themselves the Ekklesia, rather than church, who are part of both Restoration and Manifest Sons of God and QAnon, I will at the end be adding more to the past article. Much of the beginning of the Restoration movement is loosely connected to teachers and religious organizations that no longer exist or are not so important to the contemporary movement, but the scriptural misunderstandings still exists and in some cases has evolved.

The Revival Churches, a name they also used, or Restoration churches as they are usually called, began around 1947-1948, as a part of the “Latter Rain” movement. Leaving behind the centers of the 70’s and the particular books and booklets they published they all will prescribe to at least one or more of the doctrines I will touch on and they all will agree that the Church must reach some greater measure of unity, perfection and power before Christ can return.

The Dying Church: History Misread

The name Restoration was given to these churches because of their unique view of church history. According to their scenario, the Church is seen as losing almost all of her authentic spiritual experience soon after the death of John the Apostle. According to the movement the Church was weakened almost to death until Martin Luther began “the restoration” with his teaching on justification by faith. Within this simplistic view of Church history, the Church loses all and then is slowly restored back to proper doctrine until she excels the early Church and brings back the King.

One Restoration writer states,”180 A.D. - By this time the Spirit had very little control over the lives of individuals.”[1] He implies in his church history that few believers after 100 A.D. walked in the Spirit, yet for those first three hundred years, the Church was victorious in the midst of terrible persecution. Without the comfort, guidance and control of the Holy Spirit that victory would have been impossible. A more authentic view of church history is fluctuating decline and revival throughout her two thousand years.

The Restoration view fails to hold on to the completed revelations and teaching of the word of God and attempts to add more and more supposed new revelations to the Church’s tenets. 

The Beginning of Revelations:

One of the first revelations taught by this movement was that the gifts and ministries of an individual were to be predicted and received by the laying on of hands. The introduction of this new revelation is found in The Sharon Star, August 1, 1949, in an article entitled “How This Revival Began.” A preacher named Hawtin writes, “I shall never forget the morning that God moved in our midst in this strange manner…The Lord spoke to one of the brethren. ‘Go and lay hands upon a certain student and pray for him. “… He went in obedience and a revelation was given concerning the student’s life and future ministry.” As this teaching developed, the presbytery ministered to the body in this manner, and by prophecy informed individuals of their ministry. 

The Restoration movement’s early beginning appears very biblical, however using one small portion of scripture to support subjective revelation tends to produce teaching which fails to include the complete instruction and reproof of scripture on any given subject.  For instance in I Timothy 4:4, Paul tells Timothy not to neglect the spiritual gift within him which was bestowed upon him through prophetic utterance and the laying on of hands. This text is taken as a proof-text that a ministry, gift, or calling is always received in this manner. Yet this verse says nothing about a set pattern for calling believers into service. For example, in Acts 6, the apostles asked the congregation to choose seven men to serve tables and afterwards they laid hands on them. Prophecy had nothing to do with the choosing.

From this early beginning, a pattern was set: revelation comes first and is then checked by scripture; moreover since the only scripture texts that are sought tend to confirm revelation, not all scriptures on the subject are studied. The believer’s personal life-choices as well as church doctrine then is guided by subjective revelation.

The Hand or Five-Fold Ministry:

The “five-fold ministry” and/or “Hand Ministry” was a teaching that was supposedly restored to the Church at this time. Ephesians 4:11-15, the ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, is the basis for this teaching but is misapplied. The early Restoration leaders considered the apostle and prophet restored in a foundational sense, i.e., with the ability to give new revealed truth. In contrast the Bible teaches that the Church is being built upon the foundation laid by the Apostles and Prophets of the Old and New Testaments. This foundation, having already been given cannot be added to or changed.

The foundational Apostles laid foundational truth, the New Testament. This was possible because they were eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ, and he chose them for this ministry. In fact, Paul refers to himself as “one untimely born” (1Cor. 15:8) because last of all Jesus appeared to him. Also see Acts 1:21-26 for the biblical requirements for an Apostle. Those that we might refer to today as apostles are, according to the N.T., merely “sent ones.”

The Restoration churches began to accumulate “restored doctrine” on the return of Christ. Restoration teachers often insist Jesus will not return until the church is mature and perfect. As I will show at the end of this piece the outer fringe of these teachers, the Manifest Sons of God, will use this idea of a perfect and mature church to build an elaborate and extremely heretical teaching on the  second coming. But one important point is according to Restoration teaching the second coming of Christ is contingent upon the new revelations of these restoration apostles and prophets.

David’s House:

One of the new doctrines concerns what is referred to as “The Tabernacle of David.” The Old Testament tells of David the King bringing up the Ark of the Lord, and rather than placing it in a tent of meeting at Gideon, he placed it in a tent he had prepared for it in Jerusalem. (2 Chron 1:4) most in the Restoration movement believe David did this at the bidding of the Lord. They believe that God established a manner of worship in David’s tent different from that of the tabernacle of Moses. This new style of worship was a more spiritual style, and is, they believe, a picture of the type of worship the Church is to perform.

 Restoration teachers are thus concerned with worshiping God in a certain way: Not only prayer, praise, kneeling, and standing, but dancing (altogether), clapping, lifting up hands, and shouting. It must be understood that this is not biblically wrong, the error is in the idea that this is restored doctrine and the only correct way to worship God. Their flawed assumption is that God will then inhabit the praises of his people, and as God is praised, the congregation is more spiritually empowered to restore the Church and raise it to perfection.

The biblical texts corrects this view. Two important texts concerning this doctrine are Amos 9:11-12 and Acts 15:14-17. Vines’ Repository Dictionary of New Testament gives the meaning of tabernacle in Acts 15-16 as “tent, booth, tabernacle … (f) the house of David, i.e., metaphorically of his people.” Obviously this refers to David’s family line which culminated in Jesus.

In Acts 15 Peter is speaking to the Church concerning the gentiles in the Church and whether they needed to be circumcised. The question here concerns grace or law; must the gentiles worship in a certain manner (by being circumcised and observing the order of the temple) in order to be acceptable to God? Peter reminds the elders that the gentile’s hearts are cleansed by faith alone (verse 9) and that they themselves, “are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.” The issue is not animal sacrifice and circumcision versus dancing, clapping, shouting, etc. in order to please God but, rather, are the gentiles saved by faith or works?

Then James, in agreement with Peter, began to speak and quoted from the Prophets, in particular Amos, addressing the rebuilding of the tabernacle of David. James quoted from Amos and then explained that the House of David which God had promised to establish forever (1 Chron. 17:11-14) found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the descendent of David. The coming of Jesus Christ established the house or tabernacle of David, and His death on the cross and exaltation established the Church, God’s true house forever.

The Perfect Church:

The Bible verse, “That He might present to Himself the Church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.” (Eph. 5:27) is used by Restoration churches to prove that the last generation must come to maturity and perfection before Christ can come. They falsely teach that this refers only to a last days Church and is something Christ has been waiting for throughout the entire church age. They conclude that those who do not receive their restored truths will not come into maturity and, by implication are also hindering the Church and Christ’s return.

Eph. 5:27 is actually set at the end of a chapter describing the love Christ has for the whole Church as an example of the love a husband should have for his wife. Verse 27 gives the ultimate reason Jesus died for the Church as well as the outcome of the sanctifying work of Jesus within the Church and within the believer. The Bible speaks of the Holy Trinity being the one who sanctifies: God (1 Thess. 5:23), Jesus (Heb. 2:11), and the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 1:2). The word of God (John 17:17, 19), and the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:14) are the means of sanctification. Scripture teaches that God sanctifies the believer as she submits to God. It is a progressive process and it is never separated from the atonement and is always concerned with the entire Bible taken in its proper context.

Each believer goes through this process of sanctification; it is individual as well as corporate. This process clearly includes the whole Church from the beginning of the church age to the end, not an elite end-time church. In John 17, Jesus prays for the sanctification of his disciples and all those who would believe in Him through their testimony; that again includes the whole church age. God is not waiting for any particular part of the Church to grow up. He is waiting in patience for all who will come and be saved (2 Peter 3:9).

Indeed though Christians are cleansed from sin by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and are progressively made holy in their growth in the Lord, they are not altogether without a sinful fallen nature until the return of Christ.

The Church as the Body of Christ:

Another teaching within the Restoration churches concerns the biblical understanding of the Church as the body of Christ. As a biblical teaching it is beautiful, but the Restoration movement pushes the metaphor to an extreme. The description of the Church as the body of Christ is meant to show the relationship of Christ to the Church and of individual members to one another. Christ is the head of the body, meaning both that He is the ultimate authority and the very source of life to her. (Col. 2:19; 3:4) The members of the Church are in need of one another and cannot function alone.

In the context of Restoration teaching, the body (the Church) becomes Christ’s only way of functioning, just as people need their bodies in order to accomplish any earthly task. As one Restoration teacher explains, “But the enforcement of Calvary’s victory was placed in the hands of the Church, Christ’s corporate Body upon earth. The body with hands and feet is the vehicle which carries out the commands of the Head. If the Body fails to respond, the will of the Head becomes a dead letter.”[2]

The difference between creature and Creator is blurred and on earth the Church becomes indistinguishable from Christ. This eventually leads into the doctrines of the Manifest Sons of God, since it is they who teach that the Church is the ongoing incarnation. Concerning this, theologian Richard C. Lucas points out that:

 It is this egregious error that has caused misunderstanding and grief again and again in Church history. For example when the Church is regarded in literal terms, ‘as an extension of the incarnation,’ the claim is made that Christ is so joined to His church on earth that its teaching becomes His teaching, and its traditions an expression of His mind.[3]

In this context the prophet and apostle of the Restoration churches become the voice of God to the individual, and the door is opened for tyranny within the Church.

Also, within this misunderstanding of what it means for the Church to be the body of Christ, Restoration teaches that the Church is required to do all that Christ did and be all that Christ is. The Church, seen as the literal body of Christ, and possessing the true feet of Christ, is to destroy all the enemies of Christ. One early Restoration teacher wrote, “Now we are the body of Christ, and we, too, are to have all things in subjection to us. At the present time we don’t see this reality with the natural eye. But the day is coming when we will be full partakers of Christ’s dominion (Heb 2 6-16). God is waiting until all the enemies of Christ are put under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. There will be a generation of people created in the last days who will break their appointment with death (Psalms 102:18)”[4] (Emphasis mine) Here, already in 1975 the Manifest Sons of God teaching is promoted within the Restoration movement itself.

Restoration, Manifest Sons of God and QAnon:

I have discovered that some QAnon followers, who are also Restoration, now hold to the teachings of the Manifest Sons of God. Besides adhering to such teachings as “the fivefold ministry” and continuing revelations they are extremely political and have mixed their very bizarre ideology with their commitment to former president Donald Trump.

 They have combined all of their bizarre ideology so as to fluctuate between a strong commitment to Israel and the Jewish people while at the same time linking to QAnon videos that are extremely anti-Semitic. The videos they are linked to attempt to show that those, who are in reality Ashkenazim Jews, are not Jews but are part of a secret group controlling the world.  Merging the Masons and Illuminati with the Ashkenazim Jews they portray them as those in charge of the “Deep State,” the Democrats, and Hollywood. The videos raise the old blood libel insisting that all of these groups in thrall to their masters are kidnapping children for sex and drinking their blood for its life energy.

The Home Congregations, call themselves Ekklesia rather than Church believing the Church has failed in its calling and commitment. Added to this are links to supposed Bible studies written by Eric J. Ellis an obvious Manifest Sons of God teacher. Ellis believes there are two sons birthed: Jesus by Mary and the “overcomers.” By following an elaborate scheme using a great deal of scripture which Ellis turns into symbolic steps, the “remnant” come out of the supposedly old Church order and birth Christ within themselves  becoming the overcomers or the second son. [5] This doctrine of overcomers or manifest sons of God has its roots in Romans 8:18-23:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present times are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. (18-19)

The whole text concerns the resurrection of the whole Church and what that means for the rest of creation. It has nothing to do with an elite group moving out of the Church and experiencing the resurrection in order to do Christ’s work for Him. Both the Restoration churches and definitely the Manifest Sons of God have begun to add works to their view of what it means to be saved. I wrote in a much earlier paper:

The gift of God includes redemption, justification, sanctification, and glorification of our bodies at the visible coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing more that could be added that we should want. God’s gift is complete and belongs to all of His Church, and it is His all His work and not ours. “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).” “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).”



[1] Dick Iverson and Bill Scheidler, Present Day Truths, (Portland: Bible Press, 1975), p23.

[2] Paul E. Billheimer, Destined to Overcome (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, n.d.) p 33.

[3] R.C. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon, p138.

[4] Dick Iverson and Bill Scheidler, Present Day Truths (Portland: Bible Press, 1975) p 132

Friday, January 29, 2021

Facing the future as a Christian

 

When President Trump lost the election for a second term and I in frustration unfriended some friends on Facebook I felt a certain freedom. But it was the kind of freedom the Israelites must have felt walking on dry ground with towering waves on both sides. Only faith in a sovereign Lord would keep you going step after step.

To be clear I unfriended some friends because after pushing and pushing into the realm of awful conspiracies in order to make it okay to tell others they weren’t true Christians or they had blood on their hands, the friends then insisted it was not trumpers who invaded the United States Capitol but Black Lives Matter and/or Antifa. I also unfriended them because I realized they were making all others enemies. It wasn’t that some Democrats were left leaning and some desiring a socialist government, but they consider all Democrats communists/Marxists. How many times have I seen a picture of President Biden with the communist flag draped under his face?

I still love them, still pray for them, but they have headed so far into the darkness that prayer and silence on my part is probably the only way. (I was becoming a troll.) And in the clarity of the moment I have some thoughts about the future of orthodox Christianity in the United States.

First are some very personal thoughts which entail my own walk with Christ. In sorting
through all of the reading material on Twitter and Facebook I have discovered that some pro-life sites are lifting up some of the same conspiracy theories as my Facebook friends. So I am busy scouting out groups that are truly pro-life. That is, they are pro-life from the womb to the tomb. And they include anti-racism and the needs of the poor and immigrants in their concerns. I recently posted two videos on Facebook from sites that embrace that fullness of Christian compassion. See Pro-Life and Civil Rights: Loving Our Unborn Neighbors - Karen Ellis and “What Does it Mean to be Pro-life?”

But still I see the problems that are entangled within the progressive movement which are unbiblical and as deadly as the conspiracies of the far right. That is why I see this particular time for orthodox Christians as a time of walking on dry land with towering walls of water on both sides. Already it is clear that both abortion and unrestrained sexual desires will plague the future but the biggest concern for orthodox Christians will be, and must be, fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ.

That fidelity means not embracing the lies and immorality of the far right which includes generous doses of anti-Semitism, paganism, materialism and idolatry and not embracing the immorality and lies of the left which include lies about the worthiness of human life in all of its stages and relationships. Christians cannot embrace the murder of the unborn, the tearing apart of immigrant families, the hatred of the other, the mutilation of childhood’s innocence, the redefinition of marriage, the blood libels against Jews and others.

It isn’t an easy road ahead but we have the promises of God. I love the way that Karl Barth put it in his little book Theological Existence Today, written as the Confessing Church was forming during the early Nazi years:

Within the Church it is agreed that God “upholds all things by the Word of His power” (Hebrews i. 3): that He supplies answer to every question, that He allows righteousness to experience all anxieties, that He sustains all that he has made, and leads it to its truest end, that no thing can subsist and flourish without His Word.

So the Church, Christ’s disciples, the orthodox Christians in the United States have the word of God, have the good Shepherd leading and caring for them, yes in the midst of anxieties and even perplexities. We will persevere and flourish in His care.   

But you, beloved building yourselves upon your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

And have mercy on some, who are doubting;

Save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.  (Jude 20-23)

Monday, January 18, 2021

Christian don’t walk down that road, not even in its shadow: QAnon and anti-Semitism

 

Picture taken by Ethan McHenry
After writing an article for Christian Research Journal on an anti-Semitic and racist movement called “Christian Identity” I told a friend that I wasn’t going to major on that topic because I found their literature  so ugly. I had no desire to delve into that kind of material anymore. But of course God doesn’t always agree with our personal plans. Just a few years later as an evangelical in the Presbyterian Church (USA) I found myself constantly writing about a group in the denomination who were both progressive and extremely anti-Semitic. The Israel/Palestine Mission Network even published glossy booklets with such ideas as most of the people in Israel are not ancestors of ancient Israel but descendants of an Eastern European tribe.

And now, out of the PCUSA and belonging to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, I see once again, but in a greater way, an anti-Semitic movement growing across the United States. It is part of the QAnon movement I have already written about in, Q and the cross of Jesus. In that article I do mention that there is potential for the movement to become anti-Semitic. But now after exploring some videos that, “Home Congregations,” a QAnon site, has recently linked to, I see that their anti-Semitism is equal to the Nazis of Germany.[1]

The first video, authored by Janet Ossebaard, a Dutch conspiracy theorist, attempts to go back in history and show where those who are supposedly controlling history originated. The narrator of this weird story eventually points to the, Ashkenazim, those Jewish groups who eventually immigrated to Germany as well as other parts of Europe. The narrator instead of connecting them to Abraham, like the PCUSA group mentioned above, connects them to an Eastern European group the Khazars. The Khazars, in reality first converted to Judaism and then to Greek Orthodoxy and are not genetically linked to the Jewish people.  But this is one of the bigger lies of many anti-Semites, that the people who died in the Holocaust and settled the modern State of Israel are not really Jews. Rather the anti-Semite insists they are a group of people who infiltrated nations with their greed and desire to control the world.

But these videos get weirder because the narrator using every
conspiracy theory possible connects the Jesuits to the Free Masons after having connected them to the Knights Templers. And somehow in all of that the Illuminati also gets connected to all of them—they all merge together. And then comes the forth video that begins with the fraudulent The Protocols of the Elders of Zion which is allegedly a group of Jewish elders getting together and planning how to conquer the world.

All of this undergirds the lies about Jews controlling the nations, financing wars, turning Russia into a communist empire, causing the great depression, manipulating political parties, and encouraging the Nazis. (Hitler is said, by the anti-Semite, to actually be a Rothschild.) And today, connected to QAnon these same lies are about how this group, the merged Ashkenazim, mason, Illuminati, are in charge of the “Deep State,” the Democrats, Hollywood, and the old blood libel that all of these groups in thrall to their masters are kidnapping children for sex and drinking their blood for its life energy.

Christian don’t walk down that road, not even in its shadow.

Don’t become attached to any of the lies, the conspiracy theories, not even the election conspiracies. Darkness and evil are behind all of it. If you embrace one lie, you will be guilty of abetting anti-Semites. The father of lies must be laughing at the Church in the United States. We have forgotten our Lord and because of it souls are being lost, human lives are being lost, truth is being trampled on the ground. Remember when such lies were told in the 1920’s and 30’s the end was the horrible deaths of six million Jews plus many, many others. Let’s not walk this awful bloody road again.



[1] Here is the page the links are on: The Great Awakening – Home Congregations- Worldwide, and here is the site where the videos are: THE SEQUEL TO THE FALL OF THE CABAL - PART 1 (bitchute.com)

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

On the President’s Proclamation on 850th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket

 


I have noticed on Facebook some have praised President Trump and the White House for the “Proclamation on 850th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket.” I do find much to praise in this proclamation, the call for religious liberty in all countries is to be applauded and the emphasis on life, both born and unborn, is praiseworthy and yet I disagree with much of this. Let me begin by referring to an experience I often have on Easter when in boredom, at night, I watch bits of The Ten Commandments, which is too often shown on TV during the holiday. After watching all of the religious drama one comes to the end and hears Moses proclaim, “Go out into the world and proclaim liberty everywhere.” And of course that has nothing to do with God’s work among His people. I will return to this at the end.

First the President probably did not write most of this but still it is his proclamation and he signed it. The document states:

When the Archbishop refused to allow the King to interfere in the affairs of the Church, Thomas Becket stood at the intersection of church and state. That stand, after centuries of state-sponsored religious oppression and religious wars throughout Europe, eventually led to the establishment of religious liberty in the New World. It is because of great men like Thomas Becket that the first American President George Washington could proclaim more than 600 years later that, in the United States, “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship” and that “it is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.”

While I agree that Thomas Becket was a faithful servant of the Church, dying to protect her rights from secular power, this wasn’t actually about what we think of today as religious liberty. For over a thousand years the Roman Catholic Church and various kings and emperors had fought over who had the right to rule. Should archbishops and/or popes have the right to crown Kings and Emperors? Should Kings and Emperors have the right to tell clergy what to do? A lot of this was tied up in the battles between Becket and Henry II. Henry thought that the lower clergy should answer to the state when they committed crimes—Becket thought they should not, they should answer to the Church.

Perhaps the greatest argument between them was when several Church officials officiated at the crowning of Henry’s son. By custom that was the right of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. Becket promptly excommunicated the three officials. (And here I must say I don’t disagree with church discipline; I believe secular office holders, and all others who encourage and uphold abortion should be excommunicated—and that’s coming from an evangelical not a Catholic.) But the decision about who had the power, was just that. The King was seeking power and so was the Archbishop.

And while I believe Becket was a saint as the Catholic Church defines saints I don’t believe Becket was the beginning of what we now think of as religious freedom. Truthfully we have to think of the Baptist, the Anabaptist and the Quakers as those who truly planted freedom of religion in first our hearts and then our laws. For instance Rhode Island, acquired by a Baptist, and Pennsylvania, procured by a Quaker were the first truly religiously free states among the colonist. This does not deny the faithfulness of Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics and others; eventually all began to understand faith, in particular the Christian faith, would prosper further under the stewardship of religious freedom. But it is a lesson we have had to visit over and over.

But this is not my only problem with President Trump’s proclamation. While this statement is basically right,

As Americans, we were first united by our belief that “rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God” and that defending liberty is more important than life itself. If we are to continue to be the land of the free, no government official, no governor, no bureaucrat, no judge, and no legislator must be allowed to decree what is orthodox in matters of religion or to require religious believers to violate their consciences. No right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one’s religious convictions.

This final part of the proclamation contradicts it,

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim December 29, 2020, as the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket. I invite the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches and customary places of meeting with appropriate ceremonies in commemoration of the life and legacy of Thomas Becket.”

This is the state telling not only churches but also schools and other gatherings to commemorate a religious holiday. By decreeing Becket’s martyrdom a special anniversary, the state and in particular a president, is in a real sense “decree[ing] what is orthodox in matters of religion.” This has undoubtedly happened because the author of the proclamation has imagined religious liberty to be a doctrine of Christianity. It is not of course but is instead a protector of all religions. That is the same as equating the story of God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from their slavery in Egypt with a general call to proclaim liberty to the world. Freedom is a blessed gift of God, and God was freeing the slaves, but he was doing so much more. His purposes were far deeper and pointing to eternity. God was calling a people to himself, redeeming them from not only hard taskmasters but purifying them for Himself. Preparing them as a people who would fulfill His purpose.

A document such as this one should be tied to the principles of our Democracy not to the celebration of the anniversary of the death of a saint. Freedom, a gift, is surprisingly less a gift to the Church, then the gift of Christ’s saints, in their death. Thomas Becket should not become a symbol for our freedom, he does not belong to the American dream, but to the Church of Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Flirting with a Soiled and Ragged Crowd: A new religious movement

 


During the seventies and eighties the name “cults” was changed by many in ministry and secular scholars who abhorred the use of the word cult.  The new religious groups are generally now referred to as New Religions. That is a better way of addressing such groups as Jehovah Witnesses or Christian Science—I was and am happy for the new way of seeing the many new developing groups. However there are still groups I refer to as cults. Scientology is one. Jim Jones group, seduced by Jones to reject all family and friends as well as God’s word, but to accept suicide, was a cult. A once local Sacramento group, Aggressive Christianity, was a small group whose members have dwindled since moving to another state where several of them, in the last few years, were arrested for child molestation. And that is a clue of why I would still call them cults, because their leaders attempt to absolutely control them and too often that controlling leads to bodily harm.

There is of course spiritual harm to members who belong to any false religious group. But generally there is no intent of absolute control.

There is, however, another description of religious groups, they can become movements rather than institutional entities. I think you could rightfully call the Fascists of the thirties a political/cultic movement. Each leader of the various countries, Italy, Germany and Spain were charismatic figures who became dictators. They were adored by many who felt they had returned their various countries to morality and prosperity. And, of course, there were those who detested and feared them, rightfully praying for their defeat.

I have been both reading and posting articles on Facebook whose authors believe that a new religious movement is growing among some Christians which they call a cultic movement. That is Trumpism. This Thursday I discovered on messenger a Facebook friend had left me a video—“The Plot to Steal America,” a video filled with conspiracy theories about the presidential election which supposedly led all the way to China. I did some searching and found that this person, Seth Holehouse, is a seemingly well to do man who loves fancy watches and motorcycles. And he was asking for donations.

Holehouse is on most of social media including the new Parler. And yes, he goes by the name Man In America. I wondered who he was attracting besides my Facebook friend. I did a lot of exploring, clicking on comments to what he posts and following up on the commenter’s site. It is troubling.

First, a day ago, he placed a link to “We The People Site,” which begins with this statement: We The People of the United States Request President Trump Invoke Insurrection Act to Take Back Our Republic w/Military. And there was a place to sign. Another posting or reposting was from “NO.1Dad☕πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡²·. He describes himself as, “American Nationalist, Fascist, Christian, White Lives Matter. On his site I found this remark about the recent Russian Hackers, “I wonder if every time Russia is blamed it's actually Israel.” And there is the far right’s use of Pepe the frog.

Another commenter calls himself Q tip and has all of the signs of QAnon plus also Pepe the frog. Another has posted a picture of soldiers saluting Hitler with this caption, “Adolf Hitler The Greatest Story Never Told (Full) PLEASE BE ADVISED: International Jewry has declared war on truth! This documentary like many others that are exposing the greatest lies of the 20th...”

There is more but that is enough. Is Trumpism a Christian cult attempting to mix religion with nationalism and using the fringe right to build a wide and greater movement? Well I’m sure my Facebook friend doesn’t think so. But it is simply a fact that cannot be denied. Some Christians are being seduced and within that seduction they are tearing the Church apart. Sadly they are hurting their own spirituality, their relationship with Christ. Any Christian who is flirting with that soiled and ragged crowd needs, as Jude, says to be pulled away from the fire. “Save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” (Jude 23)

Truthfully, biblically, we are called to that soiled and ragged crowd but not in cahoots with them, not in helping them in their delusions, anti-Semitism, and hate for other people but to proclaim the freedom of Christ to them.


Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Jericho March and the Holy Name of Jesus

 

A march was held in Washington D.C. called a Jericho March with the intention of assuring a part of the American church that Donald trump who lost the 2020 election for president would be able to overturn the results. The name of Jesus was constantly used to undergird the wishes and dispel the fears of many.


Alex Jones used the name of Jesus loudly. He’s the fellow that insisted that the shooting of the elementary school children at Sandy Hook school never happened.* In the face of parents who could think of nothing but the terror, pain and great need of their dying children, Alex Jones said it never happened. Too many listened to Jones praise Donald Trump while insisting that many American citizens voted illegally in the election. Many applauded him.

Eric Metaxas, the author of a bestselling book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was the emcee. He also, both at the march, and on his radio and YouTube show, uses the name of Jesus, slanders others and lifts up Trump and Trump’s claim of a fraudulent election. In a recent video, in a parody of “Mary, Did You Know?” he accuses the Democrats, among other things, of being in league with the “Soros Folks” and Venezuela.[1] Many applaud his use of Christianity as he calls people to stand against the recent election?  

Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, a pacifist, who because of the horror of Hitler joined the German military helping a secret group of military officers as they helped Jewish people escape into Switzerland and plotted to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer went to prison for helping Jewish people escape, he was killed when it was discovered that he was part of the plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer struggled with his decision to join the military and to kill. He was devout and dignified, an intelligent and caring individual who wrote letters, poems and theology from his cell.  

Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Ethics of how those in the Church during the Nazi years must lead the German nation in confessing sins. One of those confessions was because the Church had allowed the nation to misuse the name of Christ. They tried to make Jesus Christ into a German nationalist. Bonhoeffer writes:

The Church confesses that she has taken in vain the name of Jesus Christ, for she has been ashamed of this name before the world and she has not striven forcefully enough against the misuse of this name for an evil purpose. She has stood by while violence and wrong were being committed under cover of this name. And indeed she left uncontradicted, and thereby abetted, even open mockery of the most holy name. She knows that God will not leave unpunished one who takes His name in vain as she does.[2]

Bonhoeffer’s call to confession was for the church, for himself and down to this day for me and you. Many men and women stood up during the Jericho march claiming Christ and his blessing but making it a political call to Christian nationalism and for the sake of one man, Donald Trump. But Christ is uniquely and only Lord of the Church—someday He will be Lord of not only this nation but all nations—but in the Parousia. The Church can claim Jesus but not the world, and it is the Church’s duty to hold His name Holy, to not use it as a political tool.

I am thinking now of how I fail to hold His name Holy. I am praying that both I and the Church in the United States find only praise for that name the name of Jesus.


*Here is where you can find a picture of one of the children who died that day. Jake Tapper just placed it on Twitter. He does this with the children every year .Home / Twitter

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 1949, reprint (New York: Simon & Schuster 1995), 113-14