Monday, November 24, 2014

Catholic Church Endorses Universalism? Did Pope Francis Say That Atheists Will Go To Heaven?


            A year ago, Pope Francis implied that atheists would go to heaven if they only do good. These were his words, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good …‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”1

            Pope Francis’ speech about ‘doing good’ endorses salvation by works, which is consistent with the theology of the Catholic church. So this is not surprising. On the contrary, Protestants (or at least many Protestant denominations) negate ‘salvation by works’ to espouse ‘salvation by grace through faith.’

            In his controversial speech, Pope Francis stated that all are beneficiaries of Christ’s redeeming blood. This then is the most disturbing aspect about Pope Francis’ speech - his implication of universalism (that all human beings will find salvation; it does not necessitate belief in God and Jesus Christ.) If his implication of universalism is factual, then it is a false doctrine with reference to the Bible.

            Immediately after Pope Francis’ controversial speech, Fr. Thomas Rosica (staff of the Holy See press office) clarified that Christ is the means to all salvation, as if to negate the implication to universalism.2

            However, in his statement of clarity, Fr. Rosica refers to Fr. Karl Rahner’s conceptualization of “anonymous Christian” to imply universalism. The anonymous Christian is a non-Christian who ends up in heaven although without consciously realizing himself / herself as a Christian. These are Fr. Rosica’s words, “This must mean that the non-Christians who end up in heaven must have received the grace of Christ without their realising it. Hence the term – ‘anonymous Christian’.”3 The concept of “anonymous Christian” is taught in “Lumen Gentium” - the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Vatican II (no.16).

            Before we go any further, we should affirm the following:

            1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (promulgated for the Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II in 1992; henceforth denoted as CCC in this essay) deems atheism a sin, “Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion...” CCC 2125  The same message is found in ‘Gaudium Et Spes’ (Pastoral Constitution On The Church In The Modern World) promulgated by his holiness, Pope Paul VI in 1965, “While rejecting atheism, root and branch, the Church sincerely professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live…She courteously invites atheists to examine the Gospel of Christ with an open mind.”4

            2. The Catholic church affirms the existence of hell, which is reserved for those who continue in mortal sin until their end.CCC 1033-1037

            3. The Catholic church does not explicitly endorse universalism. Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a Catholic Priest, author and blogger, emphasizes that universalism does not find a place in Catholic church, “It is a sentimentalist heresy because it is based not on clear thinking or logic or the authority of Church teaching or the catechism or the Sacred Scriptures, for there is no support anywhere for universalism in the Catholic faith” 5 Fr. Rosica affirms the same idea, “Catholics do not adopt the attitude of religious relativism which regards all religions as on the whole equally justifiable…”6

            However, the plot thickens here. Avery Cardinal Dulles, who held the Laurence J. McGinley Chair in Religion and Society at Fordham University, endorsed universalism, “Who, then, can be saved? Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments. Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found. Jews can be saved if they look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled. Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will. Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice. God’s saving grace, channeled through Christ the one Mediator, leaves no one unassisted…”7

            Avery Cardinal Dulles was a very well respected Catholic theologian and was in close association to Pope John Paul II. It was Pope John Paul II who conferred the title of Cardinal of the Catholic Church in Rome upon Avery Dulles in 2001. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI gave the dying Cardinal Dulles a private audience.8

            I make these observations about Cardinal Dulles merely to emphasize his highly respectable standing in Catholicism. Therefore, a man of such high stature in Catholicism would not have ignorantly blurted out his endorsement of universalism. If he had meant what he said, then that could be the official position of the Catholic church as well.

            In fact CCC #841 affirms that Muslims and all those from other religions who acknowledge the creator God will go to heaven even if they reject Christ, “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day.” 9

            Furthermore, CCC #847 offers anyone who rejects Christ a backdoor entry into heaven under the guise of ‘through no fault of their own’ hypothesis, “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.”10

            The Bible does not teach salvation for Muslims and other theists, instead the Bible teaches that belief in Christ to be the only means to salvation. On the contrary, CCC #841 confers heaven upon all theists, even if they reject Christ, and CCC #847 and #848 confers heaven upon all atheists.

            But the hypothesis ‘no fault of their own’ in CCC #841 bewilders me. Why?

            First, it is not biblical. Nowhere does the Bible say that man even if he rejects Christ for no fault of his own will merit eternal life.

            Second, the concept that man is following another religion for no fault of his own ascribes innocence upon man. (On the contrary, the Bible deems man a sinner.) In other words, man has not consciously rejected Christ, but is innocently following the religion that he has been born into.

            Let’s say that ‘A’ is born into an atheist household. The no fault of his own argument will posit A’s atheism as a consequence of A’s nurture / upbringing – that ‘A’ was brought up in atheism, so ‘A’ subscribes to atheism. The logical alternate of this argument would be, had ‘A’ been brought up in a Catholic household, then ‘A’ would have subscribed to Catholicism. So in this case, ‘A’ will go to heaven because of his circumstances (atheism or Catholicism), which according to the Catholic catechism is for no fault of his own.

            The no fault of his own hypothesis includes a couple of invalid presuppositions. 

            A. This hypothesis removes any semblance of cognition of an alternate worldview. So the hypothesis presumes that the person in contention does not think about alternate worldviews for no fault of his own.

            Really? How did Catholic theologians determine this?

            B. The no fault of his own hypothesis also rejects a notion of conscious rejection of competing worldviews by the person concerned. By imputing innocence to the person, the hypothesis assumes that the person does not consciously reject competing worldviews, which need not necessarily be true.

            Consider Richard Dawkins who rejects God and Christ consciously. To begin with, the no fault of his own argument could include Dawkins under its scope by arguing that Dawkins was not properly informed or educated about God or creation that he subscribed to Darwinian evolution to reject God.

            Then just as how an expert neuroscientist would be unable to be an expert in ‘C’ language programming, the no fault of his own argument could potentially argue that Dawkins does not have the expertise to comprehend the truth of the Christian faith, and hence for no fault of his own subscribes to the lie of atheism to reject Christ.

            This so deviously entails that Dawkins has not rejected Christ consciously. It’s just that Dawkins is unable to comprehend the truth for no fault of his own.

            Thus the no fault of his own hypothesis has the surreptitious potency albeit sans sense and sagacity to confer heaven upon all and sundry.

            The third and the most important argument, as I see it, against the no fault of his own hypothesis is this. The concept that man follows another religion for no fault of his own ascribes inactivity upon God.

            If man is said to be following a lie for no fault of his own then the insinuation is that God has not done anything significant to teach man or to bring man into truth-consciousness. This is the most troublesome aspect of this Catholic doctrine.

            But God does intervene in people’s lives. The Bible is replete with such instances; a vividly remembered case in point would be Christ’s supernatural appearance to the church persecutor Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9: 1-18) or the promise that Christ would be with us until the very end of the age (Matthew 28: 20).

            Therefore to say that man remains in a lie for no fault of his own questions God’s immanence and relegates HIM to a mere spectator. Relegating God to a spectatorial dungeon is a false accusation and a sin against a sovereign and a just God.

            Significantly, St. Augustine (354 - 430 AD) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274 AD) arguably two most important Catholic theologians did not subscribe to universalism. The contemporary Catholic conception of universalism commenced in 16th and 17th centuries11 and since then continues to gradually capture the Catholic minds.

            The no fault of his own doctrine of the Catholic church motivates those subscribing to contradictory worldviews to remain in their belief. Why would an atheist or a Muslim want to know the truth if he is taught that he will go to heaven even according to the Catholic understanding? Why would Catholics even want to evangelize, for anybody could be wherever they are for they are there for no fault of their own, and for which they will enter heaven?

            Importantly, the Catholic conception of universalism mocks sin and Christ’s gory death on the cross. Why would anyone want to renounce their sinful life if all they need to do is good works while they continue to enjoy their sinful deeds? Why would Christ have to undergo that extremely painful death while HE could have sovereignly willed everyone into heaven without the pain of the cross?

            What about the Catholic affirmation of hell and their consideration of atheism as sin? It seems that the Catholic church does not take them seriously anymore.         

            I conclude with the words of Fr. Dwight Longenecker, “The effects of universalism on the church are catastrophic. It's not real hard to understand. People aren't dumb. If everyone is going to be saved, then why bother to go to church? If everyone is going to be saved there is no such thing as mortal sin. If everyone is going to be saved there is no need for evangelism. If everyone is going to be saved there is no need to feed the hungry, become a priest, build the church and become a saint.

            Of all the various Hydra heads of modernism, universalism is probably the most insidious and diabolical and destructive of them all. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It's sweetness and light and sentimentality and underneath it's poison.”12


            Jesus Christ said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14: 6, NIV). This is the truth, all else is a lie. Amen.


 Endnotes:
1 http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/explanatory-note-on-the-meaning-of-salvation-in-francis-daily-homily-of-may-22

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html

5 http://www.catholic.org/news/hf/faith/story.php?id=43802 

6 http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/explanatory-note-on-the-meaning-of-salvation-in-francis-daily-homily-of-may-22

7 http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/02/001-who-can-be-saved-8    

8 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avery_Dulles

9 http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p3.htm

10 Ibid.

11 http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/02/001-who-can-be-saved-8    

12 http://www.catholic.org/news/hf/faith/story.php?id=43802 

CCC2125: Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion. The imputability of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. "Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion." (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c1a1.htm)

CCC 1033-1037
1033We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."

1034 Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire," and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth."

1037 God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance":

Father, accept this offering
from your whole family.
Grant us your peace in this life,
save us from final damnation,
and count us among those you have chosen.
(http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a12.htm) 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jesus Married To Mary Magdalene? The Insanity Continues…


Introduction

            Here’s a morsel of Christ-bashing from the recent past. In 2003 Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code claimed Christ’s marriage to Mary Magdalene. In 2012, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, Dr. Karen King announced the existence of an early Christian gospel (The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife – GJW) that alleged Christ’s marriage. (However, Dr. King emphasized that the fragment gospel does not provide evidence to Christ’s marriage.) November 2014 is witness to another book release, ‘The Lost Gospel,’ which claims to publicize the names of Jesus’ two children.    

            In these instances, Christ’s marriage is merely claimed superficially. However, in essence, they deny Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, thereby proposing to render Christianity invalid.

Bashing Christianity Earns Fame Without Pain

            Let’s pause and wonder why Christianity is the most hated / criticized religion more so than any other religion.

            Criticizing Christianity makes one a wealthy celebrity. It’s a fact that Dan Brown made a few millions through ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ Similarly the authors of ‘The Lost Gospel’ may hope to make a few millions too.

            On the other hand, when Salman Rushdie published ‘The Satanic Verses’ in 1988, other than making money, he had to seek police protection and even go into temporary hiding because of violent demonstrations and the fatwa that was issued against him.

            In comparison, Dan Brown, who tried his hand at bashing Christianity became a wealthy celebrity with a difference. The differentiating factor is that he became a wealthy celebrity without the pain and distress of running or hiding.

            This then is what Christianity offers to its detractors, if a fairly valiant attempt is fabricated to disprove the validity of Christianity, then the authors are more or less certain to become instantly famous and wealthier. But they do so without having to endure pain or harm.

Refuting ‘The Lost Gospel’

            But what about the detraction in itself; are the assertions in ‘The Lost Gospel’ valid?

            Please read Dr. Robert Cargill’s rebuttal of ‘The Lost Gospel’ if you wish to dig deeper into this theme.Here are a few words of refutation from Professor Cargill, a Biblical studies scholar, who highlights the stark depravity of  ‘The Lost Gospel,’ “Mr. Jacobovici’s new book essentially claims that the 6th century CE Syriac language version of a Greek pseudepigraphical story entitled  Joseph and Aseneth…is a “gospel”, and should be read allegorically, but only after replacing every mention of Joseph with the name “Jesus”, and every mention of Aseneth with “Mary Magdalene”.

            Now, if your first thought is, “WTF? This is just as problematic as the Bible Code dude, who attempts to read every passage in the Bible as an allegory for every modern event, from the Invasion of Iraq, to the Wall Street Crash, to President Obama’s election, etc.”, then you’re right on the money. It is precisely that silly – same interpretative technique, same lack of evidence, same wishful speculation. The same guy who claims to have discovered the route of the Exodus, Atlantis, the nails of the cross, the tomb of Jesus (with Jesus still in it!), and another tomb of people celebrating Jesus’ resurrection (with Jesus still in the other tomb), has now written a book claiming “evidence” that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, by swapping out the names of Joseph and Aseneth and replacing them with the names of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

            By that same allegorical logic, you could swap out the names of Samson and Delilah and claim that Mary Magdalene cut Jesus’ hair. Or swap out Adam and Eve and conclude that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were the primordial couple. Or read David and Bathsheba allegorically and end up with Jesus having a son named Solomon, who is guarded by the Priory of Sion, and…well, you get the picture.

            There is a reason that the scholars of the world are not paying any attention to this latest so-called “discovery”: there’s nothing there.”1

            When Cargill refers to the scholars of the world, he evidently included the regular Christ-bashers like Prof. Dr. Bart Ehrman, a former Christian and presently a popular voice against the deity and the resurrection of Christ. But ‘The Lost Gospel’ is so fraudulent that even Ehrman ridicules it on his facebook page,’ “The claim is completely bogus. This “new” Gospel is not a Gospel, but a text that scholars have known for roughly forever.”

            Essentially, the claim of ‘The Lost Gospel’ that Christ married Mary Magdalene is fraudulent and absurd. Christians need not bother about this fraudulent money making endeavor.  

Validating Christ’s Resurrection Disproves Christ’s Marriage

            When people assert Christ’s marriage, they essentially deny Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. This nuance should be understood and not forgotten.

            To reasonably posit Christ’s bodily resurrection is to authenticate Christ’s resurrection. If Christ’s resurrection is authenticated, then Christianity is valid. If Christianity is valid, then all claims to Christ’s marriage would be invalid and absurd.

            Many Christian scholars have contributed to ascertain the authenticity of Christ’s resurrection. Gary Habermas, a distinguished Professor and Chair of the Dept. of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University, and Mike Licona, a New Testament scholar and Asst. Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University, use the ‘minimal facts’2 approach to validate Christ’s resurrection in their work, ‘The Case For The Resurrection of Jesus.’

            They contend that most, if not all, scholars (Christian and Non-Christian scholars included) agree that the following historical events cannot be doubted. These historical events are:

            1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion.

            2. Jesus’ disciples’ experiences that they believed that Jesus rose from the dead.

            3. Church persecutor, Paul’s conversion experience that convinced him of Christ’s resurrection.

            4. Conversion of James (brother of the Lord Jesus), who was initially skeptical of Christ.

            Alongside these events, they submit three other historical events, which they term as ‘second order facts,’ in their minimal facts approach, these are:

            5. The empty tomb of Christ.

            6. Jesus’ predictions of HIS imminent violent death and resurrection.

            7. Earliest Apostles’ testimony that the resurrected Christ appeared in a bodily form.

            Habermas and Licona contend that the historical events 1, 2, 3 & 4 are sufficient historical bedrocks on which Christ’s resurrection can be built and defended. They support these historical bedrocks with non-biblical historical resources that validate and strengthen the factuality of these historical events. Moreover, they discuss opposing theories (such as fraud, hallucination, visions, delusions, deceptions, apparent death etc.) and offer powerful rebuttals.

            Christian apologist and analytical philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig asserts that Christ’s resurrection passes all six tests used by historians to ascertain the validity of historical facts. Dr. Craig writes, “In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests which historians use in determining what is the best explanation for given historical facts. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all these tests:

            1. It has great explanatory scope: it explains why the tomb was found empty, why the disciples saw post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and why the Christian faith came into being.

            2. It has great explanatory power: it explains why the body of Jesus was gone, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive despite his earlier public execution, and so forth.

            3. It is plausible: given the historical context of Jesus’ own unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection serves as divine confirmation of those radical claims.

            4. It is not ad hoc or contrived: it requires only one additional hypothesis: that God exists. And even that needn’t be an additional hypothesis if one already believes that God exists.

            5. It is in accord with accepted beliefs. The hypothesis: “God raised Jesus from the dead” doesn’t in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead. The Christian accepts that belief as wholeheartedly as he accepts the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead.

            6. It far outstrips any of its rival hypotheses in meeting conditions (1)-(5). Down through history various alternative explanations of the facts have been offered, for example, the conspiracy hypothesis, the apparent death hypothesis, the hallucination hypothesis, and so forth. Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. None of these naturalistic hypotheses succeeds in meeting the conditions as well as the resurrection hypothesis. 3

Conclusion

            In presence of such overwhelming assertions about Christ’s bodily resurrection, Christians could reasonably assert the factuality of Christ’s bodily resurrection. If Christ’s bodily resurrection was factual, then Christ could not have married, had children, or died in Kashmir or buried in the Talpiot tomb near Jerusalem.

            Notwithstanding any of the scholarly assertions, the Bible boldly proclaims that if Christ has not been raised, then our faith in God and Christ is futile (1 Corinthians 15: 13-19). So I encourage you through these words from the Bible, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15: 58, NIV).

            Believe in Christ, who alone saves us from all our sins, and believe in the Bible, which is the living Word of God. May the risen Lord Jesus continue to reign in every humble and seeking heart. Amen.

PostScript: If you are interested in learning more about Christ’s resurrection and refuting Bart Ehrman, then please read the links in the endnotes.



Endnotes:
1 http://robertcargill.com/2014/11/10/review-of-the-lost-gospel-by-jacobovici-and-wilson/

2 Minimal Fact: “From the outset of my studies, I argued that there were at least two major prerequisites for an occurrence to be designated as a Minimal Fact. Each event had to be established by more than adequate scholarly evidence, and usually by several critically-ascertained, independent lines of argumentation. Additionally, the vast majority of contemporary scholars in relevant fields had to acknowledge the historicity of the occurrence. Of the two criteria, I have always held that the first is by far the most crucial, especially since this initial requirement is the one that actually establishes the historicity of the event. Besides, the acclamation of scholarly opinion may be mistaken or it could change.”

http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/southeastern_theological_review/minimal-facts-methodology_08-02-2012.htm

3 http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus#ixzz3J98Im8o8

Useful reads on Christ’s bodily resurrection:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/rediscovering-the-historical-jesus-presuppositions-and-pretensions

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/supposed-discovery-of-jesus-family-tomb

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-bodily-resurrection-of-jesus
http://www.cltruth.com/blog/2011/top-8-reasons-to-trust-the-resurrection-of-jesus-christ/

http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/historical-evidence-of-jesus-christs-resurrection/

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/resurrection-evidence.htm

Refuting Bart Ehrmann:

http://www.christianpost.com/news/5-lines-of-evidence-missing-from-bart-ehrmans-latest-popular-study-how-jesus-became-god-118522/

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1434704696/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1434704696&linkCode=as2&tag=thepoaegg-20

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0830834478/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=thepoaegg-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0830834478

http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2013/02/investigating-bart-ehrmans-top-ten-troublesome-bible-verses.html

http://www.christianapologeticsalliance.com/2012/11/02/the-discrepancies-of-bart-ehrman-examined/

http://chab123.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/a-look-at-bart-ehrmans-objection-that-the-earliest-christians-did-not-think-jesus-was-god/

http://www.equip.org/articles/two-more-conundrums-bart-ehrman-just-cant-resolve/


And there are many more…

Monday, November 10, 2014

Should We Suffer For Doing God’s Will; Why?


            This is my 100th Christian blog / article since January 2013 – a consequence of publishing an article every week. Our gracious God has enabled me to publish articles for 100 weeks without fail. People from 109 countries have read my blog, and I am grateful for only God can enable this readership.

            I may have written every single article on my own strength, but it’s not in my own strength to get people from 109 countries to read my blogs. Hence, it is God’s will that I write these blogs every week without fail, for God’s overwhelming presence is evident in my effort. (Very minimally, God’s will is God’s choices for HIS people of what to do and what not to do.)

            However, while I strive to do God’s will, I experience pain and suffering – sometimes less and sometimes more. So the question we ask is, is it conventional for those doing God’s will to be in pain? In other words, if we decide to pursue God’s will in any particular matter, would we be in pain or without pain?

            Pain is not an anomaly to those committed to God’s will. Apostle Paul, a certain candidate for the faith hall of fame, experienced great pain while doing the will of the Lord. These verses describe his pain, “…been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Corinthians 11: 23c – 27).

            Joseph, a member of faith hall of fame (courtesy of Hebrews 11), experienced pain while doing God’s will. For no fault of his, Joseph was rejected by his brothers and sold as a slave to Midianites. He was then imprisoned for refusing to commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife.

            Pain should be anticipated when we are in the business of doing God’s will. We should be certain of this.

            Why should we be in pain while doing God’s will? God’s word says, “For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3: 17). So in all that we do, we are mandated to do only that which is good in God’s presence, and while doing that which is good, we could end up suffering, for this is God’s will for our lives. (Because the term ‘good’ in this verse is opposed to ‘evil,’ it’s a given that we are to do the right-good and not the wrong-good e.g. to help a bad person perform bad deeds.)

            In other words, we are not called to participate in evil deeds; this is God’s will for our life. In most instances, we oppose evil while doing good, so pain ensues when we oppose evil.

            The Christian’s task does not end with this, for we are called to rejoice, be overjoyed, praise God, and always commit ourselves to our Lord, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name…So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4: 12-19).

            This then is the toughest element of our Christian life – to be joyous amidst pain, while doing the will of our Lord. But even before we are joyous in pain, we ought to commit ourselves to do only the right even if it entails pain.

            To remain sane and to continue to have faith in God while being in pain for doing God’s will is fundamental to a Christian life. The more we believe and remain in Christ, the saner and joyous we would be and the more we would continue praising God irrespective of our pain or no pain.

            While in pain, we trust God that even pain has a godly purpose, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1: 2-4).

            However, being in pain is not the hallmark of doing God’s will, for pain could even be a consequence of violating God’s will. A smoker or an alcoholic could be in acute pain for their sinful vices. Smoking or consuming alcohol is most surely not the will of God. So smokers, alcoholics and their families would be in pain for not doing God’s will. Had they only done the will of God, which is to not smoke or drink, they would have been free of pain.

            So pain need not necessarily indicate a performance of God’s will. It is a fact that doing God’s will keeps pain away from us in various instances. This too is certain.

            Having said this, pain is believed to be a major cause for Christians to drop their faith in God. But to drop faith in God on account of pain and evil is to engage in a barter system with God.

            In other words, those who drop their faith in God on account of pain expect only good things from God in exchange for their faith in HIM. Their slogan to God is I-give-you-faith-and-YOU-give-me-good-things-in-life. This system of religious belief reduces God to a goodness vending machine, and religion as a means to receiving goodness.

            Good christians live faithfully in the face of evil and pain for doing God’s will. Let’s take the life story of Gladys Staines, the wife of missionary Graham Staines, as a case in point.

            In a brutal attack, Graham Staines and his sons aged 10 and 6 were burnt to death by a communal mob while they were sleeping in their station wagon in Odisha, India on 22-Jan-1999. Gladys Staines did not allow this horrendous evil upon her family to shake or drop her faith in God. Instead she accepted the death of her husband and sons as God’s will for her life; hence she chose to forgive the evildoers.

            Certain situations in our life will test our faith and walk with God. Most often these situations engage us in the form of evil and pain. If we aspire to be good and faithful Christians, we cannot allow pain and evil to shake our faith in God. Instead we should continue trusting in God and doing HIS will, irrespective of pain and evil.

            Paul and Barnabas encouraged the Christians to remain faithful in pain, “…strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said…” (Acts 14: 22).

            But while we are in pain, God says this to you and me, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…” (Isaiah 43: 1b-3a).

            Thank you for reading my articles; please pray that I would continue doing the will of our Lord. May God continually bless you according to HIS perfect and pleasing will. Amen.



Endnotes:


All Scripture quotations are from NIV unless otherwise mentioned. Emphasis in these Scripture quotations is mine.    

Monday, November 3, 2014

Will Christian Denominations Ever Unite? (Was the Lord’s Prayer For Unity Ineffective?)



            Make no mistake; Christianity is not the only religion with divisions.

            Here is a cursory look at the denominations of the other three largest religions of the world. The Hindu denominations are Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Shaktas, Smartas etc. The Islamic denominations are Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Ahmadiyya, Ibadi, Mahdavia, Quranists etc. The Buddhist denominations are Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana etc.1

            Although within the Christian perspective, the varied interpretation of the Bible contributes to these denominations, one cannot remain blind to the deeds of man’s pride and selfishness in the establishment and upkeep of these denominations.

            It’s not only about the differences between denominations. There are divisions within every church, or should I say, most churches. Divisions within the churches largely explain the contemporary growth of churches.

            Sadly most new churches are born not as a result of new believers coming into the kingdom of God, but because those in the kingdom of God are unable to tolerate the ideas, practices or the doctrines of their fellow believers. Hence, they move out and start new churches.

            These divisions violate the Lord’s commandments, which is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and as Christ loved us (Mark 12: 31 & John 13: 34, 15: 12).

            Denominations existing to worship God in a variety of flavors are acceptable. These denominations would not contradict unity, for they would be united in their belief and theology.

            On the contrary, we observe denominations sharply divided on the basis of doctrines. Importantly, these denominations, while arguing for their own truthfulness demean the so-called errors of the other denominations (I am not referring to the heretics or the cults).

            Divisions are our focal point especially in the light of the high priestly prayer of our Lord where HE prays for the unity of Christians, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17: 20b-23, NIV).

            So our dilemma is not merely if the Christian denominations would unite, but the efficacy of Christ’s prayer could be suspected as follows:

            1. The Lord Jesus prayed for the unity of Christians.

            2. Christian denominations are not a portrayal of unity in any sense of thought or imagination. (Some denominations consider others as abominations, and I am not even referring to those termed cults or heretics.)

            3. If Christ prayed for the unity, and if unity isn’t exactly portrayed either in the denominations or within every church, was the prayer of the Lord Jesus ineffective?

            Obviously Christ foreknew the impending divisions / denominations; else HE would not have prayed. In other words, if Christ knew that Christians would stay united, HE obviously would not have prayed for the unity of the Christians. Therefore, we reasonably posit Christ’s foreknowledge about the impending divisions among Christians.

            Then we wonder the delay in God’s answer to Christ’s prayer for unity. The answer remains rather simple to comprehend – the freewill of man. God has given man freedom to operate. As good as man can be, he uses this freedom to believe in God, but as bad as he can be, he gives into sin when he uses the very same freedom to create divisions in the church.

            Because God loves man, HE respects man’s freedom. Hence, God would not ruthlessly stamp HIS sovereignty to eliminate man’s freedom to achieve HIS purpose. This implies that the loving God would allow man to disobey HIM. Therefore man’s failure to love his neighbor, which is his disobedience to the Lord Jesus, brings about divisions within Christianity and in the world at large.

            These divisions do not help the Christian cause because Christians are the most visible and the most read gospel - the fifth gospel. When a non-Christian observes the extent of internal strife among the Christians, he does wonder the relevance of the Lord Jesus, especially in the context of the Lord’s prayer in John 17, the Lord’s command to love the neighbor and the contrasting existence of divisions / denominations within Christianity.

            These painful divisions exist because Christians do not remain in the Lord in a perfect sense. This is amply clear in the Lord’s prayer, May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17: 21b, NIV, Emphasis mine). The responsibility here, therefore, is on the believer and not on God.

            So the writing is large on the wall that these divisions are here to stay. As long as this world exists, sin will exist because of freewill. As long as sin exists, divisions will exist because man will not perfectly love his fellow man. 

            While we are on the subject, we could think of unifying situations that could motivate Christians to bury their differences and animosity towards each other. One such situation is persecution.

            In 2013 there was a meaningful endeavor by Christians in Egypt towards unity. In February 2013, the heads of the five largest denominations – Coptic Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, and Anglican – united to create Egypt's first Council of Churches.2 From what I read on the internet this alliance seems to be doing well even to this day. This seems to be a legitimate first step towards unity.

            This unity endeavor was a consequence of the prominence gained by Muslim Brotherhood in 2012 as an elected political party in Egypt. Needless to say, Muslim Brotherhood is considered a terrorist outfit by Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Russia.

            Therefore persecution does play a vital role in uniting the otherwise battling Christian denominations. These persecutions are either ordained or allowed by the sovereign God. Hence it’s evident that God is active in bringing HIS people together even amidst the pain of persecution. If we don’t learn in good times, then it does seem that we learn well in bad times.

            Forming a council of churches a.k.a World Council of Churches with the active representation of denominations is merely the first step in ushering unity. Perfect unity will be achieved when individual denominations (such as Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, CSI, CNI etc) are invalidated and merged into one Christian entity. Forgive my pessimism, but this, I think, would never happen for the simple reasons of money and power.

            Some Christian denominations are so wealthy that they would render some secular businesses as insignificant. In this context, the poorer denominations may agree towards a merger but the wealthier denominations may think twice and negate any moves towards Christian unity.

            Moreover, those in the realms of power would refuse to quit their prominence to become an ordinary servant in the mould of the incarnate Lord Jesus. Therefore, I firmly believe that money and power would be the biggest impediments towards achieving Christian unity, although I wish and hope to be proven incorrect.

            God could still bring about the Christian unity through various forms of persecution such as a powerful government edict demanding merger of all individual denominations. But having said that, I believe the mainline denominations (and the sideline denominations too) would not think of a global merger during the peaceful era.  

            Therefore I conclude the following:

            First, the denominational differences and internal animosity will remain due to man’s freewill and until the Lord comes again.

            Second, the ecumenical movements such as the World Council of Churches is merely scratching the surface of unity, but are light-years away from achieving real unity. Merger of likeminded denominations are, according to my simple knowledge, the realistic method to achieve unity. This, I believe, will not happen because of Christians’ greed for money and power, but could happen because of persecutions.

            Last but not the least, the Lord’s prayer for Christian unity will not be rendered ineffective because of God’s ineffectiveness. The biggest impediment for that prayer is the Christian leaders, who refuse to humble themselves in the mould of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of God’s infinite love for man, HE allows man to disobey HIM, and as a result a perfect Christian unity remains far from fruition and that by the will of God. Amen. 



Endnotes:
1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_schools_and_branches 
http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/sects.htm 
http://dabuddhabudda.weebly.com/buddhist-denominations.html 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_denominations 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schools_of_Buddhism


2 http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2013/february/egypts-five-largest-denominations-unite-for-first-time.html?paging=off

Monday, October 27, 2014

Christian Friendship (How Can We Be Good Christian Friends?)



           The creational purpose for mankind is dependence. Like it or not, friends are an integral part of our lives. Even parents assume the role of a friend with their children. Many idioms articulate the value of a true friend in the secular world. Therefore, value of true friendship is universally acknowledged.

            While retaining my focus within Christianity, I find it exceedingly interesting that Christ equates us as HIS friend and commands a certain pattern of friendship between fellow Christians, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15: 12-15, NIV).

            Are we the emblematic friend patterning our friendship according to the Lord’s mandate? Am I a friend who practices the Lord’s command on friendship? Do I love another as Christ loved me?

            Our sinful human nature would presumably prompt us of our eminence in friendship. Our sinful nature would advise us that we are the best friend anyone can get. This may or may not be true.

            So I reckon it profitable to recollect a few observations on friendship with a hope and prayer that we would allow the Lord to change our friendship values, if need be, so to obey HIS command.

            Christian teaching on friendship opposes political correctness. In reality, many of us strive to be politically correct. When we meet people, we put up a smile that is not from our heart. Often times, our ‘how are you?’ is a mere façade, so much so we casually ask ‘how are you?’ and consciously walk away without waiting for a response. Therefore, the starting point of our friendship endeavor is grounded on an insincere display of love. 

            Selfishness is a devious motivation for many a friendship. With quite a few, we negate the depravity of façade and desire good friendship. Hence we pursue a meaningful friendship.

            Then again, one question begs for an answer. Are we pursuing a meaningful friendship for selfish gain? We may seek friendship with the powerful and wealthy for our ultimate gain. Is this the friendship Christ desires? Not by any stretch of imagination. Friendship for selfish gain denies and defies the notion of friendship that Christ commanded us to practice.

            Mindless friendship is another brand of friendship in vogue. Words are uttered mindlessly in this friendship. We assure people that which we do not seriously desire to pursue. A typical everyday example is an assurance “I will surely meet you,” but that meeting was never desired or seriously pursued. Ultimately that meeting never happens.

            This is mindless because the commitment to meet was mindless and not serious. Moreover, mindlessness is severely exposed when neither an apology nor a reason was offered for the absence of that proposed meeting.

            Such an arrogant display of mindlessness not only takes the other person for granted but also relegates them to insignificance. This is not even close to the friendship that Christ mandates, for HE says, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5: 37, NIV). The apostle James reaffirms Christ’s statement in his letter, “…but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment” (James 5: 12, NASB).

            Then in Christianity we have abundant demonstrations of super spirituality (self-righteousness). The Christian super-spirituals desire to blend only with fellow super-spirituals. Thereby, they discard the other so-called ordinary or sinful Christians by considering them unworthy of their friendship.

            When Christ, the holy God, was a friend of unholy sinners (Luke 7: 34, 15: 1-2), shouldn’t we, HIS disciples, consider all Christians as equals and at least not self righteously discard them? This too should be given some serious thought for this offends Christ’s notion on friendship.

            Given the constraints of space and time, it’s virtually impossible to be friends with every person we meet. However, the least we can ensure is that every smile and every word we utter comes from our heart with utmost seriousness and true love. Besides, if we claim Christlike attitude, we should ensure nothing short of respect for our friends.

            Does it make sense to discard established friendships? Are there justified circumstances during which established friendships can be discarded?

            I do not disturb anyone who chooses not to speak with me. Moreover, if friends choose not to trust me despite my honest assurances, then I prefer not to engage them (Cf. Matthew 7: 6, 10: 14). But I do keep my doors open to anyone irrespective of the damage they may have rendered unto me.

            Adversities reveal the true nature of our friends. During adversities many friends will disappear for various reasons. As common sense advises, these were never our true friends to begin with. We would be much better off without their presence.

            Then there are others who would pour out their so-called justified scorn on us in various forms and sizes during adversities. They are the true epitome of the friendship Job laments about, “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams as the streams that overflow…” (Job 6: 14-15, NIV). In these moments, we may as well echo Job and mourn our situation through his words, ““He has alienated my family from me; my acquaintances are completely estranged from me. My relatives have gone away; my closest friends have forgotten me. My guests and my female servants count me a foreigner; they look on me as on a stranger. I summon my servant, but he does not answer, though I beg him with my own mouth. My breath is offensive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own family. Even the little boys scorn me; when I appear, they ridicule me. All my intimate friends detest me; those I love have turned against me…” (Job 19: 13-19, NIV)

            It’s as if adversity isn’t painful enough that these so-called friends add fuel to the fire that we are suffering from with words of scorn and ridicule. These, I reckon, are the dangerous variety, who feigned their friendship with us for some selfish motive, and who never truly considered us as either genuine or an honest friend. If we are right and if they are wrong, then the burden of repentance is upon them to repair the friendship, else we would be better off without them as well.

            However, some friends will stand by us during our adversities. They will support us in thoughts, words and deeds. These are the good Christian friends.

            Unfortunately we wouldn’t find many in this group; this is the plight of Christianity. But we are truly blessed even if we are friends with even a handful belonging to this category. 

            I have learnt one valuable lesson through my life’s experiences. When we are pursued for friendship, we would be better off thinking the possible reasons we are being pursued for. In other words, a relevant question when we are pursued for friendship would be, “what do I have that I am being pursued for friendship?” If our material possession has anything to do with wealth, power or position, then it’s more likely that people pursue us not for who we are but for what we have.

            How then are we to consider friendship within the Christian paradigm? Here are some friendly suggestions:

            First, every friendship ought to be sincere because Christ has mandated friendship in HIS mould – “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 13, NIV).

            Second, political correctness, selfishness and mindlessness ought to be eliminated from our life, if we are to be truly Christlike in our friendship.

            Last but not the least, this principle from the Lord Jesus Christ defines our attitude to friendship, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7: 12, NASB).        


            May God bless us to be a true friend and may HE bless us with true friends. Amen.