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I'm a Christian, married to a wonderful man, Steven, and mother to a wonderful little son. I have many interests and a few noteworthy journeys in life and I enjoy sharing them.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mormon Preexistence Examined

I think Shawn says this well enough, I'm not going to try to make a blog on the subject (at least at this time). Please take 30 min to watch and consider.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Which Denomination is True?

There is a myth in existence that has been around for quite a while, perpetuated by those who desire a claim to possessing the only truth and accepted by those who are ignorant of what the truth really is. This myth is that there is one, and only one, true denomination, and anyone else is out of luck.

This claim began with the Catholic church and its claim to apostolic authority. Based on Matthew 16:18, which says, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build by church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it," the Catholic church believes that authority came directly form Peter and that therefore only a church--namely the Catholic church--that could trace its authority back to Peter was a valid Christian church.

Of course, to believe this misses a few important points in scripture. First, God calls Himself the Rock and says that there is none other (Isaiah 44:8). Jesus was responding to Peter declaring who Jesus is--the Christ (vs. 16). If anything, Jesus is making a point that Peter (whose name means "rock") is a pebble. He may have been instrumental in declaring the truth, but authority is from Jesus and the church is founded on the only true eternal Rock--who is Immanuel, "God With Us." The rest of the New Testament bears witness to this.

Martin Luther proved from scripture that the Catholic church does not hold exclusive keys to the authority of Jesus or salvation, but then Protestants took their new freedom and ran with it, making new denominations over ever minor disagreement. Is this wrong? Not necessarily. It did, however, cause each denomination to cry out their "exclusive" truths and discredit other denominations, particularly during revivals such as the one that Joseph Smith experiences, causing misunderstandings and the perpetuation of the myth that there is one true denomination. Some religions, like the Mormons, use this claim as one of the foundations of the religion, and it would collapse if it became clear that there are actually other "true" religions.

The question becomes, what is the one true church, and how do we tell?

The first thing to understand is that it is not a denomination that one has to belong to or believe in to be saved. No institution has the power to offer salvation. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies," (John 11:25) and, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

Jesus' apostles gave the same criteria for salvation. "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Acts 2:21) "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9) "For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God--not by works, so no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

There are more that can be cited, but it seems the point is made. Belief in Jesus, not a religion, is the key to salvation. This is why Jesus himself didn't establish a denomination, and neither did his apostles. They established belief in Jesus himself, and people gathered as churches as a result. This is why believers are referred to as the "Body of Christ" (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 4:12, Colossians 1:24), and any who believe are accepted into this church body through merit of their Spirit-filled life and their salvation in common with other believers.

There are then two questions: what churches have correct authority, and what churches have correct teachings? Both of these are important in discerning which religions are in line with what is taught in scripture regarding Jesus and salvation.

The ultimate source of authority and true teaching is the Bible. "Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." (Matthew 24:35) "All scripture is God-breathed..." (2 Timothy 3:16) There is a plethora of evidence that God's Word has, indeed, been well preserved.

The apostles transferred their authority into scripture when they were guided by the Spirit in their writings. Every book in the New Testament is written by apostles or by those who were with the apostles. The Spirit guided their writings just like in the Old Testament. It is important to understand that the Bible is not meant as a fax from heaven; God used the words and language of the writers to convey His Word. That means that the Bible is authoritative in any language, and the redaction it has undergone--none of which effect doctrine--do not effect the truths of the Bible. It does not lose authority because a synonym is used or a place name left out in a list. If anything denies the basic, important truths about God, Jesus, and salvation, they are outside of the authority and teachings of the Bible and therefore not true.

These are what we call "closed-handed" issues. They are all found in the Bible, and were made official in the creeds, which were issued to fight heresy. They include issues such as monotheism, the Trinity, Christ's death, burial, and resurrection to conquer sin and death, and salvation through Christ alone. Again, all these are firmly established in the Bible, which holds authority. Men got their authority from the Bible and the Spirit, not the other way around.

Here is the Apostles' Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
    the Maker of heaven and earth,
    and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
    born of the virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
    and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
    from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
    the holy catholic church;
    the communion of saints;
    the forgiveness of sins;
    the resurrection of the body;
    and the life everlasting.

Remember, catholic means "universal." Christians do still believe in a universal church made up of all believers, as shown above. This creed, dating from only a short time after the Apostles, is in line with scripture.

The clear implication is that any denominational or non-denominational church that follows these teachings and is under the authority of the Bible is a viable choice for Christians to attend. Salvation does not come through a church and its teachings, but instead through Jesus and the Word. (Interestingly, Jesus is the Word according to John 1:1, 14.)

So what of the things that Christians and denominations disagree on? Well, these disagreements aren't necessarily wrong. There are simply some things that the Bible is not explicit on and which therefore people disagree on. Issues that can actually affect one's salvation--the closed-handed issues--are clear in scripture, but the Bible writers and the Spirit weren't as concerned with laying out all the little details of every lesser issue. That means, within the confines of the closed-handed issues and what the Bible states clearly, disagreement is allowed.

Within these allowable disagreements, love and charity should be shown. That's not to say debate and discussion aren't allowed, but those who disagree on these issues aren't putting themselves outside of Christ's salvation by their differing beliefs, and should not be treated as if they do. It is that sort of treatment that perpetuates the false belief of "one true denomination" and takes the focus of belief off of Jesus and the Bible.

In conclusion, there are some simple truths that we must come to understand. The first is that Jesus is the way to salvation and the Word is the way to knowledge about the important issues. If a church or denomination places itself under that authority and affirms those closed-handed beliefs, then they are a viable church for a Christian to attend. There is no "one true church" as in a denomination, but there is a universal church made up of true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are allowed to disagree on the little issues, but there is and must be unity in the important issues. That there is one true religion and we must attend and believe in that religion to make it to heaven is nothing less than idolatry of a religion and incorrect understanding of the Bible.

If you haven't yet given your life to Jesus, and you agree with what you have read here, I'd like to invite you to do so now. He stands ready to forgive you and bring you into the Body of Christ, his bride the church. All it takes is confession of your need for him and belief in him. What are you waiting for?

The Gospels--A Game of "Telephone?"

Some people will compare the early Bible to the game "telephone" since the story wasn't written down right away--the earliest Gospel, Mark, was written 30-45 years after Jesus' death, with Matthew and Luke being written very shortly after. The Epistles began much earlier than this, but they did not contain the story of Jesus' life and death in such detail.

However, to compare this to the game "telephone" is ridiculous. "Telephone" best represents gossip and rumors, not important events preserved carefully in the minds of those who witnessed them and repeated often and then recorded while the eyewitnesses were still alive. If you have never played "telephone," it is done by having a bunch of people sit in a circle. One person begins by whispering a sentence in the next person's ear, for instance, "Joe likes to dance the salsa." This can only be whispered and cannot be repeated. It gets passed down the line like this until it gets to the last person, who then says it out loud, and often is has become something ridiculous as bits and pieces were missed and distorted due to the rules of communication.

Now imagine instead that each person was allowed to say it clearly and repeat it until the person next to them got it. How much harder would it be to distort out of recognition, unless done deliberately? And imagine each person is allowed to go consult with the very first person to make sure it wasn't distorted. Do you think it would come out right in the end? Of course it would! Unless the very first person has some motive for messing everyone up as it gets down the line--and let's assume they don't--then it would turn out exactly how the first person said it!

Now let's get out of children's games. Imagine your father saw something significant when he was 18 or so. Perhaps he did, so you can really make this personal to you. For instance, I'm not sure how old he was exactly, but my father once saw a gruesome motor cycle accident. He told me only about it once, and not in much detail, a few years ago, but I still remember what he did tell me because it was quite a grisly scene to imagine. Now, these even that your father witnessed--image he tells you about it over and over and over again through the years in great detail. Then when you're an adult--let's say its been a minimum of 30 years since this accident took place, so your father is almost 50--you write it down how he's told you so many times in so much detail over the years. Do you think you've written it down well? Do you think it matches what your father saw?

Let's imagine as well that this event had multiple witnesses and it stuck with more than one of them in this way, and they or their children wrote it down as well. How well do you think those stories would match? Most likely, as evidenced by testimonies given in a court of law, valid testimonies have differences in details or perspective (influenced, for instance, by whether or not the person who saw it thought it was a good thing or a bad thing), but the core story beneath the perspective and individual details tends to remain the same, or at least very similar. And now that this story is written down, it would have to be deliberately altered to ruin its validity. If there's multiple copies of matching stories, and eyewitnesses or those who spoke with eyewitnesses still around who know the true story, a deliberately altered story would be recognized as such.

This is what our Gospels are. They are the stories of the eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) and those who learned from eyewitnesses directly and in detail (Mark and Luke). The Epistles were written by apostles who were there during Jesus' life (such as Peter and John) and by people who directly witnessed and were called by Jesus (such as Paul and James).

Because of the amazing news their message was to the early Christians, copies upon copies upon copies were made very quickly. The apostles were still around while many of these copies were being made. Now if you're copying something, and you want to get it right because its the best news you've ever heard and you want to share it with people, you're going to copy it out correctly. And because there were so many faithful copies, any distorted or altered versions were readily recognizable and rejected as false. By the time the apostles and those who had learned directly from the apostles were all gone, there were too many copies of their works to distort them and have them accepted. The only thing people could hope to do was create new Gospels with their legendary embellishment, which we see in the Gnostic gospels at exactly the right time period for that to have begun happening. These Gospels were rejected from Bible canon for exactly that reason. While they are educational to read and study, they are not scripture.

We thankfully also have some early fragments of the Gospels and Epistles that show us that our current New Testament is faithful to the originals--that doctrine certainly has not been changed, even if an occasional word or phrase has been changed (for instance, "the Lord" being substituted for "Jesus"). We can also see where people might have added things, such as the very last portion of the Gospel of Mark, and these additions are often noted in modern translations. (My NIV brackets them and puts in a small note.) The oldest fragment of Mark, dating from less than a half century from the original, may have been found recently as well. I'm looking forward to hearing more on that one, when they release all their findings and translation of it.

So, a game of "telephone" or a reliably transmitted eyewitness story? Well, I'd definitely say the news of salvation wasn't gossip.