Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Transgender god of the New Christian Gnostics

An article was recently published by the Washington Post chronicling Bethel University’s new stance, which strongly encourages their students to not use words like “man” or “mankind” when referring to the human race. The university in St. Paul, Minnesota, wrote in a statement to its students, “The Bible teaches us to value all people because they are created in God’s image. … To be clear in our Christian witness, the faculty encourages the use of inclusive language.”

The phrase, “image of God,” seems to be the focal point of the controversy at Bethel. Genesis 1:26-27 states, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Bethel University appears to interpret verse 27 as saying that the image of God is both male and female. Therefore, according to that interpretation, the use of the words “mankind” or “man” when referring to humanity is not inclusive and a denial of 50% of the image of God.

A different Bethel has taken this line of reasoning a step further.

Kris Vallotton, the Associate Pastor at Bethel Church in Redding, California, proclaimed at a women’s conference, “God made you after His kind, and God made Adam. The word “Adam” and the word “man”, the Hebrew word is the exact same word. He made Adam both male and female as you know. How many of you know God is not a man? God is both male and female. … It took a man and a woman to demonstrate the revelation of who God is.”

God is both male and female? Really? Adam was created as both a male and a female? Wow. Vallotton even expands this point in a different message by suggesting that Adam had the sexual capacity to replicate himself independent of Eve. Unbelievable.  

But you know, Kris may not be in the minority for much longer. The book and movie, The Shack, represent both God the Father and the Holy Spirit as women. Perhaps to balance things out in his mind, the writer chose to allow Jesus to still be a man.

Pastors across the country are lauding this new film, but perhaps they wouldn’t be so quick to sing its praises if they knew the origins of these strange beliefs about the image of God.

The early Church faced intense opposition throughout the first three centuries. The persecutions they endured by various Roman Emperors are well-documented historical atrocities.

However, just as it is today, the greatest threat to Christianity in the first three centuries of the Church was not persecution by violent unbelievers. The greatest threat to the Church came from wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. Gnosticism ravaged the Church in those days, and its deceitful influence upon modern Christianity is clearly evident in these descriptions of the heretical beliefs of Gnostics about members of the Trinity.

They go on to say that the Demiurge imagined that he created all these things of himself, while he in reality made them in conjunction with the productive power of Achamoth (mother). … This mother they also call Ogdoad, Sophia, Terra, Jerusalem, Holy Spirit, and, with a masculine reference, Lord. – Irenaeus 180CE, Volume 1, p. 528 [CD-ROM]

Hereupon the Father by and by, being moved, produces in his own image, with a view to these circumstances the Horos whom we have mentioned above; (and this he does) by means of Monogenes Nus, a male-female (├ćon), because there is this variation of statement about the Father’s sex. … Meanwhile you must believe that Sophia has the surnames of earth and of Mother—“Mother-Earth,” of course—and (what may excite your laughter still more heartily) even Holy Spirit. In this way they have conferred all honour on that female, I suppose even a beard, not to say other things.
– Tertullian 200CE, Volume 3, p. 887, 898 [CD-ROM]

Marcus, making a similar attempt with this (heretic), asserts that the Tetrad came to him in the form of a woman,—since the world could not bear, he says, the male (form) of this Tetrad, and that she revealed herself who she was, and explained to this (Marcus) alone the generation of the universe.
– Hippolytus 225CE, Volume 5, p. 171 [CD-ROM]

To sum up these quotes, the Gnostics wrote that a heavenly mother and father created all things. They said the divine father is literally both male and female, and that another name for the Holy Spirit is “Mother-Earth”.

Though Gnosticism is almost 2,000 years old, remarkably, it is obviously still doing damage to Christians in the 21st century. The transgender false god of the new Christian Gnostics is steadily sweeping away masses of church-goers into serious doctrinal error.

What does it mean to be made in God’s image? Biblical languages scholar, Dr. Michael Heiser, argues that perhaps we’re asking the wrong question.

“It’s not an attribute given to humanity. Think of it as a verb. … I think we should understand Genesis 1:26-27 as referring, as meaning that humankind was created to function in the capacity of God. Let us make humankind as our image. All of this points to viewing the image in a functional sense. We are created to “image” God. … We are His representatives. It’s a status given to us. It’s a function that we need to fulfill.”

So, how can you faithfully be God’s imager this week? How can you authentically fulfill your calling to represent the character of our great Redeemer to those you encounter? If you’re wrestling with what that will look like, just turn your eyes upon Jesus, for He is the image of the invisible God

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Fire of Fire

Occasionally, we have a random maid come by to clean the house. Just like when the Jehovah’s Witnesses ring our doorbell, I try to make the most of these opportunities.

After she finished up, I asked her if she liked to read. When she said she did, I offered her a copy of my book New: Wineskins and the Simple Words of Christ. I explained how I believe that everyone who comes into a relationship with Jesus carries baggage that influences him or her to not take God at His word.

Societal and familial traditions, religious and denominational leanings, philosophical pontifications of teachers and university professors, traumatic experiences, affluence, poverty and the values of our closest friends are all potential pieces of luggage we bring into the journey of following Jesus. And most of the time, we have no concept of the tremendous weight they carry in shaping our worldviews.

Also, it is very natural to see God through the lens of how we feel about our fathers. If our fathers were dependable, we often find it easier to trust God, who is referred to as our heavenly Father. However, if we had rocky or nonexistent relationship relationships with our dads, taking God at His word often proves to be a difficult endeavor. The cleaning lady told me she hadn’t seen her father in roughly twenty years, and had only just begun going back to church after about that same amount of time.

It’s interesting how the Scriptures inform us that instead of passing God through the filter of our earthly fathers, we should let the life and ministry of Jesus be the living, visible definition of our unseen heavenly Father.

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. – John 1:17-18

“Only begotten” is a weird phrase we do not often hear in our culture, which literally translates as “one of a kind”. To help understand what it means that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, let me explain by using an analogy from the early Church (remembering, of course, that all analogies will fall short at some point).

It is just as we see also happening in the case of a fire, which is not lessened when it has kindled another fire. Rather, it remains the same. And that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing the fire from which it was kindled. The Word of Wisdom … is Himself this God, begotten of the Father. … “The Lord made me the beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He had made the earth.” – Justin Martyr 160CE, Volume 1, p. 365 [CD-ROM]

Fire of Fire. Light of Light. God of God.

Jesus, the Word who was God and was with God from the beginning, was never created, for by Him all things were created. Jesus was begotten. He is very God of the eternal one true God. All these truths reveal why Jesus could say to Philip, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Those words can be life-changing for people like me who have grown up with trust issues.

Maybe you’ve been wounded by a parent, so it’s hard for you to trust in a God who calls Himself a heavenly Father. Maybe you’ve been hurt by Christians who call God their heavenly Father, so it’s difficult for you to become part of what you consider a dysfunctional family. Maybe you’ve read sections of the Old Testament where you see God making laws or doing things that appear to be contradictory to One who calls Himself slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Whatever the case, whatever baggage you carry, let me ask you: How do you feel about Jesus? Is He someone you feel you can trust? Personally, I can’t think of anyone more trustworthy, and He is the exact representation of the Father’s nature.

The apostle Paul wrote, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). This passage does not imply that God forced Christ to die for us, but that Jesus willingly engaged in this selfless act.

In fact, Hebrews 12:2 tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” His joy was not found in experiencing the agony, but in what would be accomplished through His humiliation—our reconciliation. Our deliverance from the domain of darkness brought Jesus Christ joy as He contemplated and endured the physical and spiritual torture of the cross. We fix our eyes on Jesus because He shows us God the Father.

For nearly two decades, I believed I had a terrible earthly father, and thus a sketchy heavenly one. But how many people can say they had fathers who constantly told them they loved them? Or had fathers who always pro- vided new clothes for school? Or had fathers who came to virtually all their sporting and musical events? Or had fathers who played sports with them, even if they did not particularly enjoy those sports? Or had fathers who were separated from their mothers but still managed to keep doing these things?

I could go on, but you get the idea. Perception is not always reality. The truth is I am blessed to have the father I do, and I had a much better upbringing than millions of other people. Likewise, though for a while I thought my heavenly Father was untrustworthy, nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God, has demonstrated to us the character of God the Father, and He is good. He is worthy of us laying down our lives for Him, because Jesus has already laid down His life for us.

It was amazing seeing the fire come into that woman’s eyes as we talked and she began to view her heavenly Father in a new and true light. May the fire of the Holy Spirit ignite a new love for your heavenly Father that manifests in a passionate commitment to following the simple words of Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

“How Do You Become A True Christian?”

After preaching a chapel service for a local Christian school, a student approached me and asked, “How do you become a true Christian?” What a great question, right?

I began by explaining that we must get first things first. Jesus gave His entire life for us. When we repent of our sins and give our lives to Him, He pours His life into us through the Holy Spirit. We are reborn from above with Jesus’ life flowing through us. As we walk with Him by faith each day, He begins to transform us to be more like Him in our thoughts, desires, dreams and actions.

The next step, I told the young man, is to find an older Christian man that is passionate about following Jesus. I urged him to ask if they can meet up on a regular basis so the man can mentor him in the basics of Christian life. Finally, I encouraged the student to pass on what he learns in his walk with Jesus to his siblings and friends.

I thought I had given the young man a fairly solid reply. However, I soon realized that I had not addressed his actual point of interest. He told me that he has been in the Church for many years, and has come across so many hypocritical Christians. I asked for some clarification, so he gave me an example of what he believed a genuine Christian looks like.

The young man said that he recently saw the movie, Hacksaw Ridge (which is based on a true story), and was inspired by the main character’s integrity and desire to live out the simple words of Christ. Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa but refused to kill people, and eventually became the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Doss believed that the Sermon on the Mount is not merely a high and lofty ideal Christians are to aspire to, but are not actually called to live out. No. Doss believed that followers of Jesus are actually supposed to follow Jesus’ lead. Though Private Doss’ approach to the simple words of Christ may seem novel or exceptional to modern Christians, in many ways he would just be considered a normal Christian in the first 300 years of the Church.

Aristides is one of those Ante-Nicene Christians. His 2nd century letter to Emperor Hadrian is one of many apologetic works that reveals how the early Christians’ steadfast adherence to the red letters of Jesus is powerful evidence of the validity the gospel message.

The Christians, O King, went about and searched, and they have found the truth. As I have learned from their writings, they have come nearer to the truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations. For they know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things. …

Therefore, they do not commit adultery or fornication. They do not bear false witness. … They do not worship idols made in the likeness of man. Whatever they would not wish others to do to them, they do not do to others. They do not eat food consecrated to idols, for they are pure. They comfort their oppressors and make them their friends. They do good to their enemies. … Falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. From widows they do not turn away their esteem, and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. 
And he who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. 
… They follow the commandments of their Christ with much care, living justly and seriously, just as the Lord their God commanded them. – Aristides 125CE, Volume 9, p. 443-444 [CD-ROM]

How many Christians like that have you met throughout your life? How many Christians have you met that seriously seek to follow the commands in the Sermon on the Mount? I’m guessing if you’re a typical American Christian, you probably haven’t run into a lot of them. And yet, if you were alive in the first three centuries of the Church, that type of Christian would basically be all you encountered.

So, why do Christians today often look very different from the fathers of our faith? Francis Chan says it quite well:

“When I was a kid we would play follow the leader. … We would play outside and one guy would flap his wings, and so you’d do the same thing. It’s so crazy but in the Church we’ve twisted things around, and follow Jesus is different than follow the leader. With follow Jesus you just have to do something in your heart that no one sees. …

We all played Simon says, right? Simon says pat your head, and that’s what you do. But Jesus says is a totally different game. If Jesus says pat your head, you just memorize it. Jesus says go into the world and make disciples of all nations, and you get that memorized. It doesn’t make sense."  Francis Chan

The early Christians took Jesus simply and seriously, and so they ended up looking a lot like their leader. Christian academia over the last several centuries has influenced our leaders to feel justified in paying lip service rather than life service to our Lord.

How do you become a true Christian? Follow the Leader. It may be hard and scary to do, but it really is that simple.

There is a war going on for the souls of men. We need more Christians with the conviction of Private Doss to stand for Christ so that the eyes of unbelievers would be turned from darkness to light, and from the dominion of Satan to God. May we encourage one another to faithfully follow Jesus.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Hope of All Mankind?

Being without my primary source of income over the last month has been an interesting experience, to say the least. I have noticed a low-grade pessimism creeping into my attitude, and with that, an increase in irritability. Multiple studies have demonstrated joblessness has an affect on one’s ability to posses a hopeful outlook.

It makes sense. Without a job, we can’t make money. Without money, we can’t afford the things that give us a sense of security. When our sense of security has been threatened for a significant period of time, feelings of despair often creep in. And though I cannot speak for others who are going through similar circumstances, I think this season has revealed that too much of my hope and sense of security lies in things of this world.

Hope is not only critical to us individually, it is also a vital component to a society’s ability to thrive. Politicians are well aware of this need, so they masterfully manipulate the populace to continually place their faith and hope in the god of the State.

Consider these quotes from America’s previous two presidents.

People outside of this country are expressing disappointment because they got high expectations for America. And they want America to lead. They want America to lead through our values, and through our ideals and through our example. But they have high expectations of us because, I think, that this country is still the last best hope on earth.President Barack Obama on The Late Show with David Letterman, April 9, 2007

September the 11th, 2001 will always be a fixed point in the life of America. … We resolved a year ago to honor every last person lost. … We owe them and their children, and our own, the most enduring monument we can build, a world of liberty and security, made possible by the way America leads and by the way Americans lead our lives. The attack on our nation was also an attack on the ideals that make us a nation. … This ideal of America is the hope of all mankind. That hope drew millions to this harbor. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it. May God bless America.President George W. Bush on Ellis Island, September 11, 2002

The last best hope on earth? The hope of all mankind? Wow. Those are some strong words, especially coming from purported Christ followers.

Did President Bush’s last few sentences stand out to you? Did you recognize them? That’s right. He quoted John 1:5, but instead of saying that the Light that lights our way is Jesus Christ, he said it is the ideal of America. Isn’t that the very definition of blasphemous idolatry?

And yet, many Christian Americans read and heard those words without batting an eyelash. Some respond with whole-hearted approval. Why? Because our hope is where our citizenship is.

The New Testament has quite a bit to say about hope and citizenship, but one of the most striking examples is found in Philippians 3.

For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. – Philippians 3:18-21

It’s interesting to note that Paul says the real enemies of the cross are not unbelievers. The actual enemies of the cross are professing Christians whose functional god, whose true security, whose real hope is this world.

True followers of Jesus, Paul writes, identify as citizens of heaven. Accordingly, citizens of heaven find their hope and security in heavenly realities, which should therefore cause Christians to live in a manner that is in stark contrast to citizens of earthly governments.

These truths were powerfully articulated in an early Christian document entitled, A Letter to Diognetus, which was written in the second century and details the attitudes and actions of followers of Jesus throughout the known world at the time.

Christians … live in their own countries, but only as guests and aliens. … Every foreign country is their homeland, and every homeland is a foreign country to them. … They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but through their life they surpass these laws. They love all people and are persecuted by all. Nobody knows them, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and just through this, they are brought to life. They are poor as beggars, and yet they make many rich. They lack everything, and yet they have everything in abundance. They are dishonored, and yet have their glory in this very dishonor. They are insulted, and just in this they are vindicated. They are abused, and yet they bless. They are assaulted, and yet it is they who show respect. Doing good, they are sentenced like evildoers. When punished with death, they rejoice in the certainty of being awakened to life. … In a word: what the soul is in the body, the Christians are in the world. – Letter to Diognetus 125-200CE, Volume 1, p. 47-48 [CD-ROM]

The attitudes and actions of the early Christians don’t make sense from a worldly point of view. The Sermon on the Mount doesn’t make sense if one views the things of this world as his or her source of security and hope. Yet, the early Christians lived with a tremendous sense of security because their hope was in heavenly, eternal realities. They also saw countless lives transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit as the kingdom of God grew like a mustard seed in their midst.

People need this heavenly hope demonstrated to them by the Church like the body needs the soul. Without the soul, the body is a lifeless corpse. Therefore, if the Church’s hope is in the things of the world, we’re all in a lot of trouble. But if the Church has its hope fixed completely on the gracious realities brought to us through Jesus Christ, then His light will shine brightly through us and the darkness will not overcome it.

Jesus Christ is the true and eternal hope of all mankind. So whether your trial is currently one of joblessness or abundance, how do you respond inwardly and outwardly when you feel your temporal, earthly securities being threatened? How can you demonstrate the hope of heavenly citizenship to others in the situation you find yourself today? 

Though the politicians would have you to believe otherwise, the world and all its desires are passing away; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. Put your hope in Jesus.