Thoughts from the Christian perspective: discernment issues as they relate to the current state of the church and society.
We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Today’s Cedar Rapids Gazette has a story about Trinity Episcopal Church in Iowa City. It seems they have decided the Bible just isn’t enough material to use to teach Vacation Bible School so they decide to use the Harry Potter stories.
Here are some excerpts from the story by the Gazette’s religion writer, Molly Rossiter:
Shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday, 40 or so elementary school-aged kids donned colored sashes and prepared for their first Quidditch match. Though Quidditch, a game played in the wildly popular 'Harry Potter' series, typically involves flying through the air and on broomsticks, these particular players were grounded, swatting at playground balls rather than quaffles and chasing badminton birdies instead of the golden snitch.
Instead of taking place at Hogwarts, a mythical school of wizardry, this game was played in the grand hall at Trinity Episcopal Church in Iowa City. In place of young witches and wizards, the players were all area vacation Bible school students.
…At 'Wizards and Wonders: A Hero's Journey with Harry Potter,' vacation Bible school, held Aug. 9 to 13, students learn Christian life skills with parallels drawn between the Bible and 'Harry Potter.' The quidditch game, for example, required everyone to play their roles in order for it all to work and was a lead in to the 1 Corinthians lesson of one body, many parts, teaching cooperation.
Other lessons included the call to worship, linking Moses' call from the burning bush to the letters Hogwarts students received, calling them to learn the skills they need to be protected against the evil Voldemort, and the differences between magic and miracles.
…Meg Wagner, who organized the vacation bible school at Trinity Episcopal Church, where she is the director of Christian formation, points out that J.K. Rowling, the series' author, 'has even said that the Christian themes (in the book) are pretty obvious.' 'It's captured a generation of readers, and I'd rather they read it as a Christian and see the similarities,' Wagner said. …
By incorporating a popular book and movie series into the curriculum, she said, the Christian lessons aren't as obvious.
'It's like they're doing it without the kids really noticing,' she said.
Excuse me!?!? Isn’t the idea of VBS to make kids UNDERSTAND the Christian faith, i.e. NOTICE IT? What sort of “Christian themes” could possibly be in Harry Potter stories?
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about such drivel coming from a church whose denomination is about as liberal as they come.
Now, I know there are many other VBS programs out there which are aberrational or downright stupid things to be using for teaching about Christ and the Christian faith. It is abhorrent that churches have resorted to these things just to be “relevant.” It is no wonder our kids get bored with church without the frills; they have been won to entertainment and must be kept by entertainment.
How about we go back to scripture on which to base our VBS programs, and leave the entertainment business to the world.
And pray ye without ceasing in behalf of other men; for there is hope of the repentance, that they may attain to God. For “cannot he that falls arise again, and he that goes astray return? ” Permit them, then, to be instructed by you. Be ye therefore the ministers of God, and the mouth of Christ. For thus saith the Lord, “If ye take forth the precious from the vile, ye shall be as my mouth.” Be ye humble in response to their wrath; oppose to their blasphemies your earnest prayers; while they go astray, stand ye stedfast in the faith. Conquer ye their harsh temper by gentleness, their passion by meekness. For “blessed are the meek ; ” and Moses was meek above all men; and David was exceeding meek. Wherefore Paul exhorts as follows: “The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle towards all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.” Do not seek to avenge yourselves on those that injure you, for says [the Scripture], If I have returned evil to those who returned evil to me.” Let us make them brethren by our kindness. For say ye to those that hate you, Ye are our brethren, that the name of the Lord may be glorified. And let us imitate the Lord, “who, when He was reviled, reviled not again ; ” when He was crucified, He answered not; “when He suffered, He threatened not ; ” but prayed for His enemies, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” If any one, the more he is injured, displays the more patience, blessed is he. If any one is defrauded, if any one is despised, for the name of the Lord, he truly is the servant of Christ. Take heed that no plant of the devil be found among you, for such a plant is bitter and salt. “Watch ye, and be ye sober,” in Christ Jesus.
The last times are come upon us. Let us therefore be of a reverent spirit, and fear the long-suffering of God, lest we despise the riches of His goodness and forbearance. For let us either fear the wrath to come, or let us love the present joy in the life that now is; and let our present and true joy be only this, to be found in Christ Jesus, that we may truly live. Do not at any time desire so much as even to breathe apart from Him. For He is my hope; He is my boast; He is my never-failing riches…
There is plenty of stuff on the Internet about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, including sites dedicated solely to exposing their false teachings. For this post, I’m just going to give you a primer about their teachings so you can readily see they do not witness for the true God of the Bible, but a God of their own making who has a false Christ for a son.
1. The Trinity. The Jehovah's Witnesses deny the Trinity, saying the word is not found in the Bible.
a. Jesus was originally the archangel Michael before being born. He was only a man while on earth and became Michael again. (The Watchtower, 5/15/69, p.307 and 12/15/84 p.29) He is to be worshiped as a "glorious spirit." Jesus was re-created vs. resurrected. (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, p.143, 145; The Kingdom is at Hand, p.259; The Watchtower, 9/1/53, p.518; et al) He is NOT God in the flesh.
b. The Holy Spirit is merely "God's invisible, active force."In Reasoning from the Scriptures, on p.381, they teach that the Holy Spirit “is not a person but is a powerful force that God causes to emanate from himself to accomplish his holy will.” They also teach, in Should You Believe in the Trinity, that the Holy Spirit is “a force that can be adapted to perform a great variety of operations.”
Christian response: There are a lot of words not found in the Bible, but our word “Trinity” describes what the Bible plainly teaches about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Hebrews chapter 1 is excellent for demonstrating the superiority of Jesus over the angels. You might also point out that Rev. 22:8-9 says angels refuse worship - that worship is for God only, which demonstrates that Jesus can’t be an angel.
a. "The perfect justice of God would not unjustly accept more value than that of the thing to be ransomed.... It was the perfect man Adam that had sinned and so had lost for his offspring human perfection and its privileges. Jesus must likewise be humanly perfect, to correspond with the sinless Adam in Eden. In that way he could offer a ransom that exactly corresponded in value with what the sinner Adam lost for his descendants. This requirement of divine justice did not allow for Jesus to be more than a perfect man." (Things in Which It Is Impossible For God to Lie, p. 232). Herbert Kern, in the booklet How to Respond to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, points out that, “On the one hand, Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Jesus died for all mankind. Yet they limit the value of Christ’s ransom and belittle the immensity of His work of atonement. They claim that Christ was no more than a perfect man. So they teach that His atonement as the case of one perfect human life being given to redeem another human life. They maintain that Jesus gave His life as a ransom for Adam only.” (p.28)
b. Salvation is found only in the Watchtower organization. The Watchtower, 11/15/81, says, “come to Jehovah’s organization for salvation.” (p.21). The December 1, 1981 issue says, “unless we are in touch with this channel of communication that God is using, we will not progress along the road to life, no matter how much Bible reading we do.” (p.27). This is but a sample of their claim.
c. Works are necessary for salvation. “…to get one’s name written in that Book of Life will depend upon one’s works.” (The Watchtower, 4/1/47, p.204). “Parents who love their children and who want to see them alive in God’s new world will encourage and guide them toward goals of increased service and responsibility.” (The Watchtower 3/15/62, p.179) “We have to do more than merely accept the Kingdom message in order to be saved. We also have to preach it in order to show that we believe it. We are saved by more than just believing the Kingdom message with all our hearts; we must also publicly declare that Kingdom message to others.” (From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, 1958, P.249) The Watchtower society teaches that one cannot know if they have salvation in this life, because it also depends on their performance during the millennium.
d. Initially God’s Kingdom will be 1000 years. Paradise will be restored to earth and those resurrected will have the opportunity of gaining eternal life on earth. By the end of the first 1000 years every trace of unrighteousness will be removed and all mankind will stand as perfect creatures at the throne of God, who will then test their loyalty by releasing Satan and his demons. Those who remain loyal will be judged worthy of eternal life.
e. By misuse of Revelation, the Watchtower society teaches that only 144,000 people, a special class who have been “born again,” will enter heaven, while all other “saved” people will live forever on earth. This second class is known as the “Great Crowd” in Revelation. The opportunity to be one of the 144,000 ended in 1935, so Jehovah’s Witnesses now look forward to surviving the destruction of the rest of mankind at Armageddon and living forever on earth. Since the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach against the reality of Hell, the unsaved will be annihilated and cease to exist.
3. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society is God’s mouthpiece - the prophet on earth.
a. “The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society is the greatest corporation in the world, because from the time of its organization until now the Lord has used it as His channel through which to make known the glad tidings.” (The Watchtower, 1/15/1917, p.6033)
b. “Is not the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society the one and only channel which the Lord has used in dispensing his truth continually since the beginning of the harvest period?” (The Watchtower, 4/1//1919, p.6414)
c. “Jehovah’s organization alone, in all the earth, is directed by God’s holy spirit or active force.” (The Watchtower, 7/1/1973, p.402) The Watchtower society has made hundreds of false prophecies since their beginning. By the test of Deut. 18:22, they are proven to be not God’s prophet!
4. Other aberrations:
1. When God wages war against mankind at Armageddon, all but Jehovah’s Witnesses will be destroyed, with all other churches being destroyed first.
2. Absolutely no celebration of birthdays is permitted, not even sending a card.
3. Blood transfusions are not allowed.
4. True Christianity disappeared from the earth shortly after the death of the apostles.
5. Christ returned invisibly in 1914 to set up the Watchtower society.
6. The cross is a pagan religious symbol. Christ died on a stake.
7. Celebration of any holidays is strictly forbidden, being considered worldly.
8. No one can understand the Bible apart from JW publications.
Remember, do not chase the Jehovah’s Witnesses away when they come to your door, or it will reinforce what they have been told about them being persecuted for their faith. Invite them in and show them from Scripture that works don’t save. Also have them read Hebrews chapter 1 out loud and quiz them about Jesus not being an angel. There are many ways to get them off their rote presentation and arguments and plant seeds instead. They are deceived and Hell-bound, and need evangelization.
But some most worthless persons are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, and hold opinions contrary to the doctrine of Christ, to their own destruction, and that of those who give credit to them, whom you must avoid as ye would wild beasts. For “the righteous man who avoids them is saved for ever; but the destruction of the ungodly is sudden, and a subject of rejoicing.” For “they are dumb dogs, that cannot bark,” raving mad, and biting secretly, against whom ye must be on your guard, since they labour under an incurable disease. …
I have heard of some who have passed in among you, holding the wicked doctrine of the strange and evil spirit; to whom ye did not allow entrance to sow their tares, but stopped your ears that ye might not receive that error which was proclaimed by them, as being persuaded that that spirit which deceives the people does not speak the things of Christ, but his own, for he is a lying spirit. But the Holy Spirit does not speak His own things, but those of Christ, and that not from himself, but from the Lord; even as the Lord also announced to us the things that He received from the Father. …
But the spirit of deceit preaches himself, and speaks his own things, for he seeks to please himself. He glorifies himself, for he is full of arrogance. He is lying, fraudulent, soothing, flattering, treacherous, rhapsodical, trifling, inharmonious, verbose, sordid, and timorous. …
Do not err, my brethren. Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. And if those that corrupt mere human families are condemned to death, how much more shall those suffer everlasting punishment who endeavour to corrupt the Church of Christ, for which the Lord Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, endured the cross, and submitted to death! Whosoever, “being waxen fat,” and “become gross,” sets at nought His doctrine, shall go into hell. In like manner, every one that has received from God the power of distinguishing, and yet follows an unskilful shepherd, and receives a false opinion for the truth, shall be punished. “What communion hath light with darkness? or Christ with Belial? Or what portion hath he that believeth with an infidel? or the temple of God with idols? ” And in like manner say I, what communion hath truth with falsehood? or righteousness with unrighteousness? or true doctrine with that which is false?…
Let no one be anointed with the bad odour of the doctrine of [the prince of] this world; let not the holy Church of God be led captive by his subtlety, as was the first woman. Why do we not, as gifted with reason, act wisely? When we had received from Christ, and had grafted in us the faculty of judging concerning God, why do we fall headlong into ignorance? and why, through a careless neglect of acknowledging the gift which we have received, do we foolishly perish?
I have begun reading the first of ten volumes on the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. The first “chapter” is the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, which I have actually read before. Next was the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, which was written ca. 130 AD, and certainly gives some insights into the world of Christianity at that time. Below is an excerpt from this epistle.
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake.
Would that we all would provide the same impression to today’s society!
I just finished reading this excellent book by Roy B. Zuck, and I highly recommend it. There are a few places where I disagree with him when he discusses what was culturally contextual versus contextual for all time, but those places were insignificant.
That being said, let me share with you an outline from his chapter on “Whose View Is Valid?” While he has paragraphs for all these sections, I’m just going to cite the outline headings because that will be enough to pique your interest.
Axiom One: The Bible Is a Human Book
1. Each biblical writing - that is, each word, sentence, and book - was recorded in a written language and followed normal, grammatical meanings, including figurative language.
2. Each biblical writing was written by someone to specific hearers or readers in a specific historical, geographical situation for a specific purpose.
3. The Bible is affected and influenced by the cultural environment from which each human writer wrote.
4. Each biblical writing was accepted or understood in the light of its context. Here Dr. Zuck also cited Myles Coverdale as saying, “It shall greatly helpe ye to understande Scripture, if thou mark not only what is spoken or written, but of whom, and to whom, with what words, at what time, where, to what extent, with what circumstances, considering what goeth before and what followeth.”
5. Each biblical writing took on the nature of a specific literary form.
6. Each biblical writing was understood by its initial readers in accord with the basic principles of logic and communication.
Axiom Two: The Bible Is a Divine Book
1. The Bible, being a divine book, is inerrant.
2. The Bible, being a divine book, is authoritative.
3. The Bible, being a divine book, has unity.
4. The Bible, being a divine book, has mystery.
In the chapter on “Figures of Speech,” Zuck has the following guidelines for answering the question, How Do You Know If an Expression Is Figurative or Literal? (Again, he fills out a paragraph, but I’m just citing the guideline itself.)
1. Always take a passage in its literal sense unless there is good reason for doing otherwise.
2. The figurative sense is intended if the literal would involve an impossibility.
3. The figurative is intended if the literal meaning is an absurdity, as in trees clapping their hands.
4. Take the figurative sense if the literal would demand immoral action.
5. Note whether a figurative expression is followed by an explanatory literal statement.
6. Sometimes a figure is marked by a qualifying adjective, as in “Heavenly Father”… “the true Bread”… “living stone”… Or sometimes a prepositional phrase hints that the preceding noun is not to be understood literally.
This book doesn’t have much I haven’t read or heard before, but it is great to have it all in one place, and, besides, it was great refresher training. Zuck discusses the history of Bible interpretation and how the Reformation brought back more literal interpretation from the long centuries of primarily allegorical interpretations. He teaches about figures of speech, cultural contexts, grammatical structures, idioms, literary genres, and symbolism. He also discusses how to understand Jesus’ parables, interpreting prophecy, the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, and the need to apply the Word to one’s life.
One of the things which KJV Only people say is that the new Bibles have left out “Lucifer’s” name when they change the word in Isaiah 14:12. When you understand the origin of this name, you realize how ridiculous this argument becomes.
In the past I have read much about the translation of the term, but I found it quite interesting that my wife gave me a copy of a children’s magazine sample we picked up at a home-school conference. It is called Discovery, and the March 1999 issue has the following on page 20:
Have you ever heard of a “morning star”? Or an “evening star”? Many years ago, early in the morning as the Sun began to rise, people saw what they thought was a bright star in the sky and decided to call it the “Morning Star.” At a different time of the year. . . they saw another light, which they named the “Evening Star.”
They did not realize for a long time that the Morning Star and the Evening Star actually were the same thing. They also did not realize that what they were seeing wasn’t a “star” at all, but the planet Venus. … In their own language, the Greeks called it Hesperus in the evening, and Phosphorus in the morning. Later, the Romans called it Vesper in the evening, and Lucifer in the morning. Hesperus and Vesper mean “evening.” Phosphorus and Lucifer mean “light-bearing.”
Does the name “Lucifer” sound familiar to you? Perhaps you have heard people use it as another name for Satan, but this is not at all what the Bible teaches. The story begins with a man called Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin. . . . When he came to the book of Isaiah, he found the Hebrew name Helel, which means something like “the Shining One.” It described Helel as “the Son of the Dawn.” Jerome concluded that Helel was just another name for Lucifer - the Morning Star.
Next, the people who prepared the King James Version borrowed heavily from Jerome’s Latin Bible. Their translation of Isaiah 14:12 went like this: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” The confusion was started when someone incorrectly decided that this was talking about Satan and his rebellion against God (read Jude 6; Matthew 25:41). In fact, the prophet Isaiah was talking about the wicked king of Babylon who claimed to be like God, and who boasted that his throne would lie beyond the stars (Isaiah 14:13-14). The king sought the glory associated with Helel, but God had other plans. He would bring this wicked king down to the depths of the Earth where he belonged (verse 11).
Today, in order to avoid this confusion, modern translations use “Morning Star” or “Day-Star” instead of “Lucifer.”
Isn’t it odd how weird ideas sometimes get started and then everyone seems to think they are right?
So here’s the summation: Tertullian and Origen originated the teachings that Isaiah 14 referred to Satan. Then “Lucifer” first entered the Bible in 405 A.D. when Jerome translated the O.T. into the Latin Vulgate. In 1611, the KJV translators left the word “Lucifer” in the text instead of translating the Hebrew. This led to John Milton, in 1667, putting the idea of Isaiah 14 applying to Satan, along with the KJV use of “Lucifer,” into his famous book, “Paradise Lost,” which had Lucifer as an angel who sinned and was cast out of heaven. And this is how Lucifer became Satan.
I had never heard of the Lucifer/Satan connection when I first read the Isaiah passage, and I never would have gotten the connection from the context, and this doctrine is disputed by many theologians in commentaries I have read.
Nevertheless, if Christians quit using this term to name Satan, then we will cease forcing the Scriptures to say something they don’t say.
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