Monday, December 29, 2008

Job 22:21-28

I'm looking over the passage in Job 22:21-28, I saw verse 21 which struck me in reading a couple of days ago. So much so that I actually remembered the exact chapter and verse correctly today. Remember that Job is considered by many to be the oldest book written for the Bible. Yes, the beginning of Genesis recounts history much older, but it is also considered as having been written down by Moses from older writings, with Moses serving more as editor than author. In any case, even though Job doesn't mention the Law, it does bring up some very "advanced" theology for such a "primitive" knowledge of God.

The setting is Eliphaz the Temanite's speech to Job starting in verse 2. Eliphaz is accusing Job of numerous things, apparently by "reading" the "fruit" of Job's life by the misery Job is in now. So, Eliphaz begins by pointing out that we have nothing to give to God that is not already His by right, says Job was an unjust magistrate among other things, accuses Job of thinking God cannot see his sins from way up in heaven (perhaps implying Job is an atheist) and finally references the "old world" from before the Flood. Which brings us to the passage in question.

Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee. Receive, I pray thee, the law from his mouth, and lay up his words in thine heart.
(Job 22:21-22)

The "him" here is God and the suggestions from Eliphaz are those good for any Christian to remember. I believe that there were numerous writings and accounts of God and His interactions with people even before Moses. Even in the Scriptures we have mention of books that we no longer have any record of and wouldn't know about if they weren't mentioned or quoted in Scripture. Eliphaz calls on Job (and by extention, all people) to aquaint themselves with God and be at peace towards God and His will (i.e. not disobedient). Specifically, receive the law from His mouth and lay up His words in your heart, so you will know obedience. By this good (blessings) will come to you.

If thou return to the Almighty, thou shalt be built up, thou shalt put away iniquity far from thy tabernacles. Then shalt thou lay up gold as dust, and the gold of Ophir as the stones of the brooks. Yea, the Almighty shall be thy defence, and thou shalt have plenty of silver.
(Job 22:23-25)

Eliphaz is calling for Job to repent and return to God. God will bless him again with worldly goods to go with that peace. The Almighty will be his defence when you trust Him.

For then shalt thou have thy delight in the Almighty, and shalt lift up thy face unto God. Thou shalt make thy prayer unto him, and he shall hear thee, and thou shalt pay thy vows. Thou shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee: and the light shall shine upon thy ways. (Job 22:26-28)

Looking always to God, He will hear your prayers because you will be one of His children, as is promised in Scripture. Paying your vows refers to one sense of taking the Lord's Name in vain and bearing false witness and is referred to in the New Testament when told not to swear to the creation (as the Jews often did to avoid taking His Name in vain). Decreeing a thing and having it happen refers to binding and loosing and being able to ask anything and God give it to you, even to casting a mountain into the sea. This was not something new with Jesus, but was well known in Jewish thought with the provision that anyone who was that much in line with God would also never ask anything outside of God's will. Light shining on all your ways is a generic blessing where God will show you the path and direct your steps in the best way. All things work together for good for those that trust in the Lord.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Joseph and Mary

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. (Matthew 1:18-19)

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: (Matthew 1:24)

Just something that had not occurred to me before did so after looking at the Nativity story again. Of course we know why Joseph acted as he did in the end and the good result from it, but think about what was said here.
1) Joseph was going to put Mary away quietly so she and her unborn Child would not be killed in the manner of the Law for the sin of adultery. If he did not accuse her, then there was no witness to testify against her.
2) Joseph evidently had a reputation for being a "just" or righteous man, observant of the Law. In putting Mary away quietly, he would have not only gained honor for not marrying an adulteress but also for showing her mercy in her weakness. Joseph was showing "meekness" by not using the power he had (to have Mary killed).
3) When Joseph decided to marry Mary, the natural assumption was that the baby was his since he was going through with it. Which meant that Joseph, with his "good name" for being a just and righteous man would have been tarnished, since he would have been engaging in sinful sexual activity with Mary.
4) Of course, those in the small town of Nazareth who knew the real story would have hung the even worse dishonor on him of taking some unknown man's child to be Joseph's primary heir.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Discernment : What is truth?

Pilate's age old question and still applicable today. Note that in Scripture, Pilate knew that there was nothing in Jesus worthy of execution or even punishment. Well, He had caused a riot by existing, so maybe a little flogging would have been appropriate from Pilate's point of view. In the end though, Pilate bowed to the will of the howling mob led by demagogues, despite that fact that he knew that Jesus was innocent.

As Christians, we are to stand for truth, and especially Truth, despite the will of the crowd, the opinions of noisy people and the price we have to pay. It is a Scriptural duty to correct the errors of those who profess Christ, just as Paul rebuked Peter. So how do we know what is true and what is error? By discerning the truth in the light of Scripture and the Spirit.

There are three simple tests to determine truth using rational discernment. I'm not going to touch on spiritual discernment other than to point out its misuse since spiritual discernment in Scriptures does not contradict Scripture. For example:
Mat 16:15-17 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
What are these three tests? They are the same ones I used in the example in the presuppositional lesson. One proviso in these tests relates to the seriousness of the issue. In my first example below, unless you are soliciting my advice on goat raising, it is a trivial matter and doesn't need such precision in discernment. However, in the second example below, that is a critical issue for Christian doctrine and requires much more precision.

1. What are the objective facts? This means getting down to the primary sources. If I say or write down as a fact that I am raising goats, then you should either be able to visit my place to see the goats I am raising or have verifiable evidence, like pictures, of the goats I am raising. If someone says that Jesus endorsed the OT eye for an eye laws, then they should be able to give a citation to that effect like:
Mat 5:38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
See, it was just confirmed in Scripture, wasn't it? You should now go look at the Scripture as the primary source, and see what the context is:
Mat 5:38-42 “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Aha! It seems this position is untrue and quoted out of context, which if very common among false teachers since full disclosure and operating in the open would destroy their teachings, but to discern this, you must check the primary sources. Otherwise you are just basing your acceptance (or rejection) on hearsay. Depending on the seriousness of the issue, hearsay may be acceptable, but if it is serious, then even if you implicitly trust your nonprimary source, it is your responsibility to check the objective facts from primary sources before making a call on the subject on nontrivial (salvation, doctrine, etc.) issues.

2. What is the quality of the testimony? Character counts. If the one providing the witness is a known liar, then you should obviously not weight his evidence as much in comparison with someone well known for their truthfulness. Look at what style the “evidence” takes, if it is sketchy and contradicted, gossipy sounding or way over the top, look even closer. Ask what price the witness paid for giving his testimony. Ask if there were any material rewards for giving the testimony he did. If you see lots of ignoring of critical points, refusal to do anything more than assert or accuse, appeals to bad logic or incorrect axioms, ranting, changing of the testimony (especially to make it 'stronger' relevant to the position being claimed), etc., then you should question or discount the testimony you are receiving from this witness. If they are unfaithful in small things, can they be trusted in large ones? See Matthew 25:21, 23 and Luke 16:10-12

3. Apply Occam's Razor. The simplest explanation is virtually always the correct one. Even involved issues can have a simple explanation. One favorite conspiracy concerns the oil companies and their constant “gouging” of the public. Yes, they are in it for the money and yes, it is their duty to their stockholders to maximize profits, but on the ground at the gas pumps, the oil companies often have little to do with the price. If four stations are along a street and one raises prices, then invariably the rest will follow suit. When I worked for 7-11, I saw it all the time. The manager would drive by the oil company station and then raise/lower our prices to be one cent cheaper than they had. Nothing changed about the gas in our tanks, but it gave us the reputation of being the cheapest on gas. For the last few hurricanes, the distributors (not the oil companies themselves) chose not to lay on extra trucks to meet demand locally claiming that they had to “keep reserves”. So for the day or so before a hurricane, prices jump up by a large margin, unleaded runs out and only midgrade or high octane are available. Within a day or two of the storm making landfall, prices drop and unleaded becomes available again. For the conspiracy theorist, it must all be the evil CEOs of the oil companies or their master who is controlling every last gas pump price in the world. So watch for the moving goalposts, the quoting out of context (“a text out of context is a pretext for a proof text”), requirements for enormous complicated conspiracy theories, etc.

Remember that no lie can be of the truth and wherever a fundamental doctrine is denied or twisted, even if it is just one little thing, eventually all of the fundamentals of Christianity will be denied since a little leaven will leaven the entire lump.

Discernment : Types of Discernment

Discernment, for the Christian, has several different names in use. Many times these names overlap or replace one another so they need to be defined. Some of the terms I've seen in use are: Wisdom, Knowledge, Spiritual, Biblical, Worldly, Rational, Christian, Learning, Judgment, Instruction, Understanding, Prudence. For my purposes I'm going to consolidate them into three types: Spiritual Discernment, Rational Christian Discernment, Rational Human Discernment. Some could consider the second one to be a hybrid or subtype of the other two where creation and Creator mix, but let's go with these definitions and see what we get.

Rational Human Discernment (RHD): This is the only one we don't find in a positive sense in the Bible. Many are the verses that speak of the foolishness of the wise when compared to the things of God. You will find some who profess Christianity and misuse these verses to rail against any education throughout history and even up to today. They are wrong as we will see below.

What is Rational Human Discernment? Simply put it is that understanding given to all men from God. See Romans 1:18-25. God has given every man that much discernment, to be condemned for willfully failing to follow God. Some will give the excuse that they don't see enough, but at the correct time they will stand convicted in the Presence. Is there any use to RHD? Yes, because as stated in the passage above, it leads directly to God. In fact, anyone who has spent time studying philosophy should marvel at the glories of human reason. It isn't always so, but the best of it is so beautiful and sublime that it looks like it could almost touch God. Almost. I'll say that again, Almost. When viewed through the eyes of the ones who call themselves wise in worldly wisdom, they think they have achieved all truth, but from the eyes of the Christian, that 'almost' is a gulf that cannot be bridged and the greatest that can be done will still be nothing before the Almighty. It should still give some insight into the motivations of those not of the faith, because until they come under conviction, they cannot turn.

Rational Christian Discernment (RCD): Used in day to day living as the Holy Spirit leads us. Most of the mentions in the New Testament about discerning, regardless of the word used, are about this kind of discernment.

What is Rational Christian Discernment? It is the type of discerning that all Christians are commanded to learn in many places (Matthew 7:12-23, Acts 17:11, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, 14:29, 1 John 4:1) and spoken about in Hebrews 5:11-14. It is a large portion of the maturing process all Christians are to go through as they are made perfect (mature) in Christ so that they are no longer tossed about (Ephesians 4:13-14) and stay true to the Gospel. Learning to use and exercise it brings forth the fruits of the Spirit as given in Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 5:9 and 2 Peter 1:5-8. It gives not only the ability to tell truth from lie, but to decide between what is trivial, important and essential. Simple example, the number of angels who can sit on head of a pin is a bit on the trivial side. Other examples abound, but a usual signal that the point is trivial is when people try to use their discernment to decide something that God has said is His to judge. The issue of salvation is a basic one and an excellent example for misuse since we cannot decide who is written in the Book of Life, only He can. He may let you know about you, but all you can do is declare it, not prove it objectively. Beware of misuse of this, since as soon as anyone says “How could any true Christian...” they have fallen into error as they are actually usurping God's authority and setting themselves up in the place of God to judge the hearts of others when they cannot even know their own (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

Spiritual Discernment (SD): It is special knowledge given to you by the Holy Spirit that could not be learned by human means. It will not contradict Scripture or reason, at least in the form of RCD, it may contradict reason in the form of RHD. See Matthew 16:15-17 for the clearest example, but also 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 and Ephesians 4:11-13.

What isn't Spiritual Discernment? Yes, this is a slightly different question than the other two, but it is the most misused claim by those that profess to be Christians. While the Spirit does direct Christians and He does so more and more as they mature, there is no Spirit “bell” in anyone that tells them everything, which is why we are to test every spirit (1 John 4:1) and teacher for false doctrine (Romans 16:17-18, 2 John 9). Of course, such doctrine isn't downloaded into all believers by magic and revealed to them by their feelings (I like calling it the twinge in the “Holy Ghost elbow”.), it comes from the study of Scripture. Although it is possible to know something is True by feeling it is, it will not be something that contradicts Scripture since God is not the author of confusion and those that claim it the most are those that come up with something that contradicts RHD, but also RCD. Often enough, they claim that all reason and logic is against faith (IOW, they buy into the world's view), they make claims about others' salvation, and refuse correction when they are caught in error and simply carry on while acting like they never got busted. Yes, this sounds like childish behavior, but we are talking about a maturity issue and for some reason this is the most claimed gift. As soon as you hear “I just know”, citing the testimony of others without Scriptural basis (or a contrived and shaky one) or claims of special knowledge not found in Scripture, be very, very careful because this is almost assuredly not Christian.

First, why do we want discernment/judgment/wisdom/understanding? Because not only do we have to discern between true and false, but to decide relevant and irrelevant (see Romans 14). Some games are simply not worth the candle and Satan must love Christians getting caught up in side issues while witnessing or on the other side, get so caught up in “pure” preaching of the Word that we forget the fact that part of our walk includes taking care of others (James 2:15-16). Of course, as noted in Scripture, we are commanded to seek it (Proverbs 4:5, 7; 16:16).

Second, how can we tell how we have a Christian level of discerning? Not necessarily simple, but we can do it by being fruit inspectors (Luke 6:43-44) for others and the Spirit will let you know when you have it, or at least all you can handle at this time remembering always that all spirits must be tested and that Scripture cannot be contradicted.

For me, it is simple as I have learned as the years go by, but hard to explain. The key revolves around the insights I get from Scripture, the peace that passes all understanding and seeing the Hand of God in all the ways of my life. It may include (and frequently does) turbulence on the worldly level, but the surety and Scriptural confirmation shows it to continue to grow. Am I finished and perfect (fully mature) in Christ yet? Given my past, I think not, but as I need more, it will be given to me, whether I take it peacefully or have it hammered into me.

Discernment: Cults and Conspiracy Theories

Another Title would be: How to Avoid the FUD Trap.

FUD = Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. FUD is an attempt to influence people using vague information framed in a negative manner, almost invariably as disinformation that cannot be verified, or if it can be verified, turns out to not mean what the FUD pusher says it does. Silly example would be that Christians are ritual cannibals.

Cultic teachings often focus on the fact that they have the 'true' way. Among the heretical Christian cults, the Bible has often been 'corrupted' and this 'true' way is all about the 'real' Jesus. Note that this includes not only formal Christian cults, but can be found in individuals and loosely connected informal groupings within the Church. They always have their own special version and/or addition to add to Scripture. Sometimes the additional material is text, sometimes it is verbal and sometimes it is a mixture of both. This is why one must get them to define themselves and their teachings, because if it is not of Christ, then they will end up convicting themselves out of their own mouths and/or by their actions. The spirit that moves them cannot do otherwise. Vagueness of positions, cherry picking of proof texts, quoting out of context, ignoring of all contradictory evidence and appeals to emotion are hallmarks of this mindset. They have a strong tendency to be authoritarian and into group think practices.

It might be a formal structure with a leader, subleaders and followers in some variation or it can be an informal structure where all of the 'individuals' simply look or sound the same when pressed on their subject. I recall talking to some young girls several years back. They had wild makeup, wild hair, jeans with unpatched holes ripped out of the knees, more holes in their shirts and scuffed up shoes. These weren't old or cheap clothes, they were of decent or good quality and relatively new, the damage was inflicted by the kids. I asked them why they were dressed as they were and they told me it was to be 'different' and 'be themselves'. So I got them to watch with me while their peers came through a public area and even though the details might have been different, everyone was dressed the same in similarly mutilated clothing, some version of wild hair and (for the girls) excessive and wild makeup schemes. After getting them to really look, they realized that even though they thought they were being 'different', they and their peers were all just wearing the same 'uniform' with 'authorized' variations and none of them were really different or being themselves.

After you learn their jargon and sources and use them to debunk their false teaching, they still keep firm in their presuppositions, since it simply 'must' be so. When you push them on it, they always have a way of moving the goalposts of the debate until they find one that you cannot refute, usually framed in vague, unsupported allegations that call for a massive conspiracy. It doesn't matter, for them, the assertion is simply enough.

You also see it outside of Christian heresies among the Christ mythers and Christ deniers, they use the exact same tactics of making an assertion that could possibly be true, then denying any evidence that contradicts their presuppositions, counting the mere possibility as absolute proof. Commonly know as “Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up.”

Regardless of whether they are antiChristian, antiBible, Christian heretical cults, heretic hunters, political conspiracy theorists or any other group, how do you identify these practitioners of the hypervictim mentality of conspiracy theorists? Look for some simple traits this mindset has in common.

  1. They know the 'Truth'. It is special knowledge that has been revealed to them. Oh, they may claim it is Biblical, but it isn't. Or maybe it is just something 'proven' by science. In any case, the root remains pride.
  2. The “other guys” aren't real bright, are deceived or just aren't rational.
  3. Logic doesn't matter much, various fallacies based on emotional appeal are used. Over the top sensationalist claims are often made.
  4. Reliance on personal revelation instead of Scripture. When Scripture is used, it is often twisted or used as trump cards with masses of verses being tossed out without commentary.
  5. Lack of primary research done. They will claim it, but if you call them on it, they obviously haven't done it. Refusal to acknowledge any sources contrary to their positions. Refusal to explain themselves.
  6. Use of forged documents or editing actual documents for proof texts (quoting out of context). Using definitions rigidly, see # 1.
  7. Ask questions aggressively and keep asking them, no matter how many times and ways they are answered until they get the answer they want.
  8. If they do find themselves getting refuted, they will resort to making assertions without backup or that logically contradict their claimed worldview. Tantrum throwing.
  9. They fail to use the simplest explanation, instead it must be even more and more convoluted to get beyond refutation. They keep moving the goalposts of what needs to be proven/disproven. If need be, everyone else is a liar and they are right, see #1.
  10. Strong ends justify the means flavor to their position(s) if you develop them by interacting. They don't care that they are wrong, as long as they are pursuing a 'righteous' cause. Fanaticism, not zeal.

If you are not familiar with the tactic of moving the goalposts, here is an example where antiBible Lite evolutionists try to 'prove' their point against young earth creationists:

“Creationists aren't scientists.” (Proof provided that there are YEC scientists.)

“Well, creationists aren't real scientists with real degrees.” (Proof provided that YEC scientists have real degrees.)

“Well, creationists don't have degrees in the relevant fields.” (Proof provided that the degrees are in relevant fields.)

“Well, creationists don't get those degrees from real schools.” (Proof provided that the degrees come from top scientific universities.)

“Well, creationists don't get published in refereed scientific journals.” (Proof provided they do.)

“Well, those aren't real refereed scientific journals.” (Proof provided they do publish in 'real' refereed scientific journals, as defined by the evolutionist.)

“Well, those papers don't having anything to do with creationism.” (Proof provided that they do.)

“Well, creationists don't understand how science works.” (Umm, your degree is in what? Your documented body of work if you don't have a degree? Your sources to back up your assertion?)

“Well, they just have to be wrong since there is a consensus against them.” (Point out how every current scientific theory and law was at one time a minority position.)

“Well, it cannot be scientific because it is just goddidit!” (As opposed to itjustgrowed?)

“Well, religious nuts cannot be expected to understand science!” (When the basis of modern science directly rests on the doctrines of Christianity?)

“You know, everybody knows it is just lying for Jebus!” (Any proof?)

“Well, there is that dinosaur park guy!” (Who isn't a scientist and who has been publicly corrected by YEC scientists for his use of disproven theories and unscientific stances, too bad evolutionists don't police themselves up a tenth as well.)

“Well, it is just lying, Dawkins and Gould said it, Professor Fuzzybrain at school said I should think more for myself, don't accept authoritarian religious controls, and believe in evolution totally! All creationists are liars!” (Uh, well, what do you do in the face of someone who has their mind made up and isn't interested in the facts.)

Other ways besides attacking credentials include finding smaller and smaller groups and shifting the groups around who are 'really in control' or making it a case of smaller and smaller geographical areas. In both cases, no matter what the personal testimonies of numerous people who should be “in the know” according to the conspiracy theory, those testifying must be either liars, not part of the 'in' group or in the 'right' geographical spot to see the conspiracy and are therefore deceived.

This is all about seeing the pattern. At times and places, several of those traits I listed above can be used legitimately by people, but you can usually tell from the context of the conversation which one is ranting and which one is simply telling them to put up or shut up. Again, the context will give you the pattern and when you see the pattern, hold onto your wallet. They may not want your money, but often enough, they do.

Discernment : Symbols, Uses and Interpretations

Symbols mean what the user of them wants them to mean. Many times there are symbols with common meanings to most in society, but even those can have a different meaning to individuals or small groups. Symbols have been used in all societies to convey meaning and all people use symbols to remind themselves of things. In fact, what you are reading is composed of symbols arranged in a certain order to provide meaningful communication.
Since writing is a subset of symbols, much of the advice given about understanding language applies here. You must find out what the user of the symbol means by it and sometimes it varies widely. Take for example the modern peace sign. An upside down forked symbol in a circle. What does it mean? Well, the original creator of it took the flag semaphore symbols for N (a man holding each arm down at a 45 on each side) and D (a man holding one arm straight down and the other straight up) for Nuclear Disarmament. It didn't take hold until they added a circle around it.
Now, what does the modern peace symbol mean? Here is a partial list: identifying sign for the Nuclear Disarmament group in the UK, the footprint of the American Chicken, a dove's print in a circle, a broken cross, the sign of the Antichrist, an rune of life inverted to symbolize death, Nero's cross, a symbol of the devil and other variations. Speaking of people incapable of discernment:

PEACE SYMBOL - Also known as the Cross of Nero. Many people are not aware of the origins of this symbol or how it became to symbolize peace. This is the cross of Nero, a broken and inverted cross, enclosed in a circle which represents Nero's vision. Nero believed that there would be world peace without Christianity, thousands of Christians were martyred under the rule of Nero. This is what the "peace symbol" represents regardless of what it means to you.

Their way or the highway, despite well documented historical evidence that it was created by a man who wanted a simple symbol for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. You see that often in marginal groups, they force a definition linking similar symbols and assert their authority, but if you actually check, the symbols in question were created years or decades apart with no connection between the two sources. Somehow, someway, somewhere, there simply MUST have been some communication though, because it fits the group's agenda.

When I see an old kungfu movie filmed at an old temple in China, do all the swastikas about mean that the worshipers there were proto-Nazis, they were just using a good luck symbol in their decorative work or were the producers of the film neoNazis?

Often people and groups use such rigid definitions to force a conclusion in line with their presuppositions. Research the symbology of the snake or serpent in Scripture. Is it Satanic? Or is it wisdom? What about the Son of Man being lifted up?

How about the circle? Is it a female symbol? Symbol of the One God? Eternity?

Is the triangle the Trinity? A doorway for demons?

How about the famous fish symbol? A symbol of Christ? Or a female symbol?

Shall we go to the cross itself? Did it have a Christian use before Constantine saw the Chi Ro vision? Did it have any other symbolic uses prior to Christ? I actually find this one sadly amusing. I read a post by a lady railing against a group using what she described as “Babylonian sun symbols” as some kind of proof about something. In her signature was a cross, the earliest use of which was in Babylonian sun worship. It also was a fertility symbol from the pagan beliefs about the sky 'fertilizing' the earth.

Now, some people do define some of these symbols in a negative fashion, I'm not saying they don't, but until you know what they mean to the one using them, you cannot call it that.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Discernment : Grammar, Vocabulary and Misunderstanding

How something is said can sometimes be more important that what is said. People bring presuppositions to their use of language. Language can be misunderstood by the hearer and conclusions can be jumped to. One must be very sure of what the person talking is saying to them. This can cut both ways, as a heretical cultist might say that 'Jesus saves', thus sounding good, but if you question them further you might find that they consider other possibilities for salvation.

Language changes over the centuries and translations don't always catch the full flavor of the original, even when you are dealing with the same language. For example, the word 'replenish' in Genesis 1:28 has been used to justify the gap theory of creation since it means to 're – plenish' or 'plenish again'. The problem with that is that back in the day the KJV was written, there was no such word as 'plenish' and replenish didn't mean 'fill up again', but simply to fill or make complete.

It is very important when attempting to discern the message someone is giving to find out how they define the words they are using. Putting your definitions on someone else's words can lead to some serious misunderstanding about what they are saying. Learn to ask what they mean when you are not sure about what they are saying. If there is no mutual understanding of what is being said then the discussion can degenerate very quickly into a “yes you did say that”, “no I didn't” match.

If you find that someone is saying things differently that you would and won't budge, you should charitably try to speak their language using their words. Then you can show them the lack of difference (or major difference) between your positions. It may be that you have a better way of saying it or it may be that they do. It might even be a trivial difference that isn't important.

This is a fairly common bit of advice given in writings on counter cult sites specifically for discerning what is being said. It is very useful at all times whenever you encounter something you don't understand. Don't charge in, find out what they mean. If, in the end, you find them in error and they will not change, then stronger measures can be taken.

Many times people use words to try to make a point where their logic is weak. They force a definition to gain an illegitimate connection between groups or ideas. For example, many religions have a lustration ceremony for symbolic purification. Greeks, Romans, Jews and Christians are among that number. The Christian specific one is baptism, John the Baptist used one as he prepared the way for Jesus, there are other purifications ceremonies in Judaism and examples abound in pagan cultures. People who try to find any sort of connection between pagan beliefs and Christian ones (the so-called 'pagan christs') often take any sort of lustration ritual (of which there are many) and immediately name it 'baptism' in their writing, then redefine it as a 'stolen' item by Christianity from a pagan religion.

Be careful of those who insist that their definitions are the only possible ones for words or phrases, most especially if they deny the full range of definitions available in the dictionary. Make sure they are discussing something not only in literary context, but historical and cultural context, note again the 're-plenish' example of error I used above.

Discernment: Presuppositions

Presuppositions are nasty things. They hide deep within you and color your entire worldview. For many, they cannot deal with their own presuppositions or step outside of them. When you see those that cannot step aside from their own presuppositions, it is a mark of immaturity, whether it be a child in their youth, a babe in Christ or anyone else. They cannot deal with the "given this, then that" thought process. One example would be someone who rails against the Jews on the basis of them considering Christianity simply a heretical cult of Judaism.

While from my presuppositions (being a Christian), the Jews are wrong, given that the orthodox Jew has certain expectations of what the Messiah (the Christ) is to be, then Jesus failed to meet some of those presuppositional expectations. After all, He didn't blow out the Romans and institute the Kingdom right then, did He? Therefore, from the point of view of the orthodox Jew, Christianity is a heretical cult of Judaism (or Jewish heresy if you prefer).

When you confront immature people on their presuppositions, you will find them reacting as a child and throwing tantrums. They will not be able to step outside of them, defend them by being purely offensive and repeat mantras of "truth" over and over again, no matter how much you show them that by their own standards they are wrong. They will fall back on assertions and rely on convoluted chains of “proof” that require some serious suspension of disbelief.

How do you test presuppositions? The usual method is threefold: find out what the objective facts are from primary sources, consider the character of those who interpret those facts and if they are being honest (this could be literally or logically honest) and then apply Occam's Razor to the interpretations since the simplest explanations are almost invariably right and interpretations that require jumping around and changing the goalposts rarely are right.

Example: Christians presuppose that Christ arose from the dead.
1) A review of the actual literature (Gospel and outside accounts) finds that there is strong evidence for something happening to Jesus' body. The quantity and quality of the ancient copies of the Gospels surviving to the present testify to its truth.
2) Those that reported the resurrection died for their belief in it, those that railed against tried to kill those who reported it.
3) The simple and straightforward reading is that Christ arose. The objectors made up different tales, some more wild than others, some requiring actions that would have resulted in death for those who presented evidence against. The need for such conspiracy theories to disprove the resurrection point to the falseness of the claims (swoon theory would require the punishment of the Roman executioner in charge of the crucifixion, the disciples stole the body theory would require Roman soldiers to admit being asleep on watch which was again an executable offense, saying that the Gospel accounts "don't count" is special pleading not called for against any other ancient document, etc.).

When you encounter something that challenges your presuppositions (worldview), you evaluate it and decide to incorporate or reject it, each of which choices has an effect on your future life. Watch what people do when you challenge their presuppositions.

Discernment: An Introduction

There is a symbol that rules our lives. It is rarely noticed, but it permeates our society in the secular and religious areas. You find it everywhere, there is no escaping it. It is all over buildings all over this country and in many other places in the world. Politicians use it, the military plans with it in mind, workers follow its instructions, Christians mindlessly go along with it, preachers give sermons using this symbol for the passage to the afterlife. Children learn to recognize it at an unconscious level from an early age. There is nowhere we can go that the symbol is not there controlling our actions and forcing us to follow it. It tells you that when you are finished, you are to go this way. Followers of the Emergent Church are emerging from their temples of heresy under this symbol. You find it even in churches that consider themselves orthodox. It is frightening.

I am speaking of the Epsilon Chi Iota Tau. Even the name of the symbol is powerful in its mystical connections to its methods of control. People don't understand what Epsilon Chi Iota Tau means, but still they follow it blindly as they go about their daily lives. Something must be done! We as Christians and citizens must no bow to the dictates of any such symbol that is outside the boundaries of Scripture and curtailing our freedom of movement. People have died while mindlessly following this symbol in emergencies. They didn't think of anything else to do except to follow. Beware the Epsilon Chi Iota Tau. The occultic sound of it reeks of Satanic influence, you can just hear it as you say it. Do you know what it is? I bet you have seen one today and allowed you to be led by it instead of by the Spirit and Scripture. I bet you didn't even think of praying in the Name of Christ as you moved under the power of this symbol, you just did it. There are variations of the symbol, that can only be followed under certain circumstances, but when those times occur, I bet you will follow this unScriptural, nonChristian symbol without question. Beware, for you are following something outside of the Bible and it can lead you down the wrong paths. There are those who say it is harmless and others who say it is useful, but don't believe them. They are deceived about the true meaning of this symbol and the extent of the conspiracy that puts it everywhere in society.

I hope you enjoyed the little spoof. I'm going to be posting a few lessons in discerning truth and this looked like a good way to start since the Epsilon Chi Iota Tau does exist and does have the effects listed, but like Dihydrogen Monoxide, it is the presentation that makes the case for it being ominous. Discerning the flaws in this style of presentation will be of help in identifying false teachings, since nobody seems to teach these basics anymore.

Oh, if you got it, don't post the answer please, just enjoy the chuckle. If you haven't got it, go look up the Greek alphabet on Wiki. If you want to come back and argue about the letter choices, I'll know you didn't read the articles.

Even though it started with humor, this is a deadly serious subject. Lack of knowledge and inability to discern has left the Church in the shape it is in now. Heresies, cults, supposedly 'solid' Christian leaders compromising themselves in the name of pleasing their public, the face of Christianity being left to TV preachers who tell verifiable lies supposedly in the Name of Jesus. This is something I have put together as an outline of lessons, gleaning things from both older study and recent events in my life.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stephen: Boldness

Act 6:1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
Act 6:2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
Act 6:3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
Act 6:4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
Act 6:5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:

The Hebrew Jews were getting preference over the Grecian Jews. Hebrew = from Judah, Grecian = from outside Judah. Rather than give up prayer and evangelism, the apostles called for the appointment of seven men to see to the day to day business of the church and minister to the poor. Traditionally, this is considered the beginning of the office of the deacon. Stephen was a noted follower.

Act 6:8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
Act 6:9 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.
Act 6:10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.

The synagogue of the Libertines or Freedmen, was one of many Grecian Jews, including those that had been enslaved and then freed. It was probably the one of Saul of Tarsus and possibly presided over by Gamaliel of Acts 5, reputed to be the teacher (rabbi) of Saul. In their dispute, Stephen refuted them by speaking with wisdom and the Spirit. This points towards us being able to know and refute those who come with objections or seek a reason for the faith we have within us (1 Peter 3:15).

Act 6:11 Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.
Act 6:12 And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council,
Act 6:13 And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:

Unable to refute Stephen, the Jews used false witnesses who incited the crowd and grabbed him and brought him before the Sanhedrin where false witnesses again charged Stephen with blasphemy. Stephen’s defense is listed in Acts 7 where he used his knowledge of the Scriptures to outline the history of the Jewish people from Abram to Egypt and Moses. Stephen then spent some time on Moses pointing out how the Jews had rejected him, then mentioned all of the prophets the Jews ignored or killed, even though all of these came from God with His message. This is similar in pattern to the method Paul used on Mars hill in Athens (Acts 17:16-34), except Paul started from Genesis and led to Jesus since he was speaking to Greeks who didn’t know Jewish history.

Act 7:54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
Act 7:55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
Act 7:56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

As expected, speaking with the power of the Spirit and with wisdom, the Jews were condemned by the Spirit. Stephen’s vision again cut them, especially since Jesus was standing in the vision instead of sitting, symbolic of Jesus being ready to receive and greet Stephen.

Act 7:57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
Act 7:58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.
Act 7:59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
Act 7:60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

In their desire to no longer hear the words that the Spirit was using to condemn them, they dragged Stephen out of town without the formal verdict of the trial, as an angry mob and stoned him. Stephen remained bold to the end, secure in his faith, committing his soul to Jesus’ care and asking forgiveness for those who were killing him.

Freemasonry & Antimasons

Once again, there is a swelling tide of antimasonic sentiment, driven by those that claim to be Christians. Again, the problem is lack of knowledge. I've been asked why I remain a Freemason in the face of such beliefs, since I might be the cause of a being a "stumbling block" to some of my Christian brothers and sisters who believe some of the chicken stuff about Masonry. There are several reasons:

1) No lie is of the truth and the Gospel of my Lord Jesus Christ needs no "defending" from any social group by lies. Antimasons who claim to be Christians lie. Some tell outright lies and others simply quote things out of context (and a text out of context is a pretext for a proof text), then build their edifice on this.
2) Many Scriptures are quoted to "prove" the point of the antimasons and in every case I've seen, the Scripture cited does not apply to Masons, but actually applies to the antimasons or requires special pleading for the special case of being used against Freemasonry.
3) As a lay apologist, I've dealt with atheists, Christ deniers, Christ mythers and other dubious sorts. They have a certain pattern to the way they present their case. I've recently studied a few heretical Christian groups beliefs and they share a similar pattern. Guess what, antimasons who claim to be Christian share those exact same patterns.
4) All of the big sources of "Christian" antimasonry have something to sell you. There is evidently some money to be made in a "ministry to Masons" or telling the "real deal". I've caught a couple of items online with antimasonic teachers/preachers who are giving a "real deal" expose of Freemasonry and amusingly enough, within a very few minutes, they let you know you can get the real "real deal" for a donation to their ministry either from the table on the back or by calling their toll free number.
5) Shoddy scholarship. I mean seriously, this is stupid. Dan Brown writing his fictional The DaVinci Code has better scholarship that these antimasons. The Christ mythers who claim that Christianity is nothing more than redone paganism have a lot better case (and you can knock that one over with a feather).

I'm sorry, I do not submit before the self appointed modern Inquisitors of the Faith. I don't care what denomination they are.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Blog Title

Although the most direct source of the title of this blog is Proverbs 4:7, it is interesting that similar cross references can be found in the Bible: Psalms 119:104, Proverbs 4:5 and 16:16. To me, this is the key to the ills of the world today in all areas of life. Ignorance has been highlighted and people are proud of it with the attitude of "don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up". People don't know history, whether it be the history of science, the history of religion, the history of philosophy or any other subcategory. They have not been taught to think for themselves and adequately discern information. Instead they live in a world clouded by FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) given to them by demagogues who "know what's best" for the "peepul" where the height of "instruction" relies on speaking vague innuendo with an unfavorable slant to it.

There was a reason for teaching the old liberal arts in school, it did teach people to research, think and draw rational conclusions. Now you often see lies being put forth that a tiny bit of research would uncover, but nobody knows how or they are unwilling (for good or bad reasons) to go any further in track down the sources. This results in problems because there is a lot of "smoke" in the air. Now while it is true that where there is smoke, there is fire, it takes discernment (secular or Christian, depending on the issue) to see if the smoke is coming from a firestorm or a smudgepot. Without knowledge, ability to discern becomes strictly limited.

With this lack, I'm seeing an increasing dependency among people in general to cling to authoritarian pronouncements that they accept without question. I'm also seeing more of attempts to simply remove "problems" without knowing the full details of the situation. Of course, I'm not guiltless in this situation, but then it isn't always a bad thing. It does save time if you can trust your people.

Basic Beliefs

  • The virgin birth and the deity of Jesus (Isaiah 7:14)
  • The doctrine of substitutionary atonement by God's grace and through human faith (Hebrews 9)
  • The bodily resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28)
  • The authenticity of Christ's miracles
  • Belief in and waiting for His second coming to judge the world.
That does sum it up, although there may be a lot of details that can be asked about.