Articles

Cult: A Theological Definition

Following is my definition of a cult. There are a few disciplines in which to define the word, such as psychology and sociology, but this is a theological definition. Further, it is Christ centered and will thus provide the Christian with a christocentric lens through which to discern religious movements. First I’ll give the four-step definition, and then I’ll break down each portion and put flesh on each portion.

(1) The word “cult” means “group,” “sect,” “religion,” “movement,” or what have you. (2) We want to find out what a group teaches about four important areas of doctrine: God (especially Jesus), humanity, sin, and salvation. (3) When the group teaches heresy concerning any of the above (especially concerning who Jesus is), it is either a pseudo-Christian or a non-Christian group. (4) Pseudo-Christian groups claim to be Christian, non-Christian-groups do not.

(1) Cult = Group

You may choose never to use the word “cult,” because the words “pseudo-Christian” and “non-Christian” are most important. Then you can simply add “group” or “religion” or “sect” or “movement.”

(2) Four Areas of Doctrine

Now comes the heart of the issue. What does the group teach about God, humanity, sin, and salvation? I list God first, for if this is off base, then it is likely that the other areas are heretical as well. For example, the New Age Movement generally teaches that all is God. If all is God, then that makes each human being God. If each person is God, then each person is not a sinner. If we are not sinners, there is no need for the biblical doctrine of salvation.

Space prohibits opportunity for a detailed explanation of all four areas, so I’ll focus on the most important area—God. Narrowing even further, the person of Christ becomes the focal point.

What a person or group thinks about Jesus Christ is the acid test to determine whether or not that person or group is inside the Christian camp. Why? Why is Christology so important? First, when the true and living God introduced himself to Moses at the burning bush, he said of himself, “I AM” (Exod. 3:14). A designation, or name if you will, of the God of the universe is “I AM.” Second, Jesus in John 8:58 claims, “Before Abraham came into existence, I AM.” Here Jesus claims to be God the Son, Yahweh in the flesh (see John 1:1,14). Third, and finally, the reason that the identity of Jesus is essential comes in John 8:24: “If you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” I take this to mean that anyone who intently denies who Jesus claimed to be will die in his or her sins.

(3) Heresy Concerning Jesus

In 2 Corinthians 11:4 Paul writes of those who preach “another Jesus.” We can apply this to our times: There are among us today counterfeit Christs. The “Jesus” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is Michael the Archangel, the first creature created by Jehovah God. “Jesus is not God the Son,” say the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The “Jesus” of the Mormon church is the first spirit-child born to Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother (a resurrected god and Goddess, both possessing body parts, who had intercourse in order for Heavenly Mother to become pregnant with the spirit-child Jesus). Mormons further believe that Jesus became a god as a spirit-child. Then, in order for Jesus to gain a body on earth, Heavenly Father came to Mary and had intercourse with her. The “Jesus” of Christian Science is not God. The “Jesus” of the Unification Church is not God, and he failed to accomplish his mission on earth (which should have been producing sinless offspring with his wife) by getting crucified.

(4) The Claim to Be Christian, or Not

All the above groups claim to be Christian, but teach heresy in their understandings of Jesus. Thus they are pseudo-Christian. Some non-Christian groups are Hare Krishna, other Hindu groups, various Buddhist religions, Islam, modern-day Judaism, fraternal organizations such as the Masonic Lodge, Eastern Star, DeMolay, Rainbow Girls, Job’s Daughters and Odd Fellows, and all New Age groups (included here is the Unity School of Christianity).

If you choose to accept my definition, there is a third type of cult-group-religion, the Christian group. This is the body of believers, worldwide, who believe in the essentials of Christianity, such as the Trinity (which includes the person of Jesus as fully God and fully man, and the Holy Spirit as a person and as God), the virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary atonement, and bodily resurrection of Jesus, and Jesus as the only way of salvation (by grace through faith in Christ alone).

The Resurrection of Jesus

Pseudo- and non-Christian groups frequently deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus (see John 2:19-22 for proof that Jesus was bodily resurrected). For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses claim Jesus was raised from the dead, but say his resurrection was in spirit only—after he died his body was forever gone. By the phrase “Jesus was raised from the dead” Christian Scientists mean that Jesus’ mind was raised from dead thoughts to living thoughts.

Breaking the Sound Barrier

From the above two examples you see that people in pseudo-Christian groups sound like the real thing when making theological statements. Thus, when dealing with people in other religions (especially pseudo-Christian) it is imperative that you ask the person to whom you are talking to define the terms s/he is using. This is especially true when a person states something with “Jesus” in the phrase. Which “Jesus” are they talking about? (Remember that there are counterfeit Christs.) Also, keep in mind that Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and other pseudo-Christian groups may even end prayers with “in the name of Jesus,” but all the while they define Jesus in a way that is totally opposite from what the Bible teaches. When asking a person to define terms you are beginning to break the sound barrier, that is, you are breaking through and exposing as false the Christian-sounding terminology of the person.

A Final Word

When talking people from other religions it is imperative that we treat them as Jesus would treat them. There is much to this statement—it is not just a catchphrase. Every situation is different, because people are different. They join pseudo- and non-Christian cults for a legion of reasons. Some are simple followers who may not even know the core doctrines of the group; others may know the doctrines, but remain in the cult for reasons other than the theological or the spiritual. Others are in because of the doctrines, and among these we may find those who are teachers and leaders (and remember that Jesus treated the false teachers and false leaders differently, with much more severity). In every situation pray that the Holy Spirit gives you the approach that Jesus would use.

Teaching in Costa Rica

This past January I and my wife and our four-month old baby daughter Noël traveled to Costa Rica on our frequent-flyer miles. Our stay was for 12 days, during which I taught a course on Worldviews at Seminario ESEPA in San José in the evenings, spoke to local pastors in the mornings during the first week, and spoke at the Language Training Institute on Friday morning of the first week. During our only weekend there we traveled to the Caribbean side of the country and stayed in a hotel at the beach. (The hotel had a bamboo ceiling and a tin roof!)

Seminary Course

My course on Worldviews ran for 10 days—two weeks of Monday-Friday, 6:00-9:00pm classes. Twelve wonderful, attentive and bright students attended. I covered the subjects of Theism, Naturalism/Atheism, Deism, Agnosticism, Existentialism, Nihilism, Postmodernism, Polytheism, Pantheism, and Panentheism. There was, of course, a faculty member (Mark Padgett) who translated for me into Spanish. His skills were a gift to me.

Mornings with Pastors

In Costa Rica there is a great need for theological education for pastors, and for cult-awareness. On each morning I gave an Introduction to the Cults and opened up our time for Q&A and discussion. On many faces appeared looks of appreciation for gaining a theological and Christ-centered approach to discerning truth and error. Judging from what I heard from pastors, as well as during some personal conversations, the Word-Faith Movement (represented by such teachers as Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, and others) is quite prevalent in Latin America, not only because of visits by Word-Faith teachers, but because of Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN). TBN brings to hundreds of thousands of viewers (if not millions) the teaching that Jesus was the first person to be born again, that faith is a power force, and that the words we speak carry the force of faith to obtain healing and prosperity, among other heretical doctrines.

Language Training Institute

Literally across the street from the Spanish Language Training Institute (which is Christian) are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. Many of those in training at the institute were not equipped in reaching out to a mission field right across the street! Prior to my visit I arranged, with the director, a morning talk during which I shared on how to reach out to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Armed with a bit of knowledge on what the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe about certain essential areas of doctrine, and with the Scripture to share in refutation, Christians are able to share with Jehovah’s Witnesses exactly where it is they are unbiblical, and to apply that toward effective evangelism. I was grateful for the time I had at the institute, brief though it was.

A Mormon Encounter

After my first week of teaching, on Saturday we headed with our hosts to the Caribbean for a relaxing weekend. (By the way, it takes five hours by car to make the 110-mile trip!) As we began our trip we headed past the Language Training Institute and, of course, the Mormon Ward across the street from the institute. In the parking lot was a group of Mormons. My host stopped his car nearby, and I went over to engage the Mormons in dialog. I introduced myself, and, to my surprise, one of the Mormons spoke English! I knew my time would be short, for they were grouping in order to do something together. I asked the Mormon if he believed he could become a god some day. He answered yes. I then shared Isaiah 43:10 with him (“before Me no god was formed; neither will there be after Me”). I asked him to comment on the verse. But he had no answer, accept to say that he would look at it more in depth at a later time. I then shared with him the Mormon teaching that Jesus was the firstborn spirit-child to God the Father (an exalted man with body parts) and heavenly Mother (an exalted woman with body parts), and that the spirit-child Jesus became a god when he was a spirit-child. Further, this Jesus came to earth to take a body in the womb of Mary because the Father himself came down and had intercourse with Mary. He said that he had never heard of the teaching that Jesus was the firstborn spirit-child. I shared with him some official sources that teach that doctrine, and asked him to research it for himself. He said he would, but in the meantime I shared that Jesus always was God the Son (John 1:1), and that he was conceived in the womb of Mary “by the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18, 20). I then appealed to him on the basis of Jesus’ words in John 8:24 (“unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins”) to accept the biblical Christ, and to forsake the counterfeit Christ of Mormonism. “I share this with you,” I said, “because I love you for the sake of Christ.” I then thanked him for the time he gave to me and invited him to accept the biblical Christ as savior. He would not do so, stating to me that he believed the Mormon Church teaches the biblical Jesus. I then asked to check out what I had shared with him, shook his hand and said goodbye.

Well, needless to say, it was a fruitful trip, one I will never forget. Please pray for the students, pastors, language students, and for this Mormon man. Also, please consider making a donation to SDM’s “Costa Rica Fund.” See details on the flip side of this issue of The Sounding Board.

United Pentecostal Church

A while back a friend of mine who was a pastor of a church in Canada invited me to give a series of lectures. During the drive to his home from the airport he mentioned his concern about a certain “Ministers Prayer Breakfast” he was attending. His concern focused upon there being a United Pentecostal Church (from hereon UPC, not to be confused with other Pentecostal groups who are Christian in theology) minister as part of the gathering. What worried him was not necessarily this man’s presence at the breakfast, but the fact that the group engaged in prayer, using only terms upon which they all agreed.

I attended the breakfast. The event indeed began with prayer, followed by breakfast, during which the ministers talked about spiritual things. At the close of the hour, I suggested to the group that what was going on was not biblically sound. All were taking part in prayer and spiritual conversation without recognizing that there was “another Jesus” represented by one of the ministers. “With all due respect,” I said, “our UPC friend here does not believe in the biblical Jesus.” The UPC minister raised his voice and exclaimed, “Steve, ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’!” I then asked, “In John 1:1 is ‘the Word,’ who was with the Father, a person?” He said, “No. The Word is a ‘thought’ in the Father’s mind.” I then turned to the others in the group and explained that this was another Jesus, because this man denied the preexistence of the Son as the Son (more on this later).

At this point, one of the other ministers scolded me for being too picky, and that before they started having these meetings they agreed on terms that all could use without being divisive. My friend stood for the fact that the view represented by the UPC minister was not biblical, and that he had been concerned and convicted about being part of the meeting.

By the way, during that initial drive from the airport, I also told my friend that the UPC minister did not consider him a Christian because he had not been baptized “in Jesus’ name only” in order to obtain the remission of sins, and because he did not speak in tongues (not to be confused with Christian Pentecostal groups who state that tongues are a sign of a subsequent blessing, not of salvation). This was confirmed several days after the confrontation at the prayer breakfast. Soon after the meeting, the UPC minister went to each of the other ministers’ homes and told them they were not Christians.

UPC View of the Godhead

The UPC is vehement in its denial of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Rather than believing that there is one God (Isa. 43:10), and that there are three persons who are called God (the Father is called God in 2 Pet. 1:17; the Son is called God in John 20:28; the Holy Spirit is equated with God in Acts 5:3-4), and that the three distinct persons exist simultaneously (Matt. 3:16-17) and are the one God (see Matt. 28:19), the UPC opts instead for a modalist concept of the “Godhead.” Their modalism is summed up by the following short formula: One person, three modes of operation. Again, this is vastly different from the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, which simply put is “One God, three persons who exist eternally and simultaneously.”

The UPC brand of modalism suggests that there is only one person (Jesus) who is God, and that Jesus acts in different modes—he can be the Father at one time, then the Son at other times, and still at other times the Holy Spirit.

As regards the UPC doctrines that “the Word” of John 1:1 is a “thought” in the mind of the Father (and Jesus was the Father before the incarnation!) and that there is no preexistent Son of God, UPC writer David K. Bernard states, “The Word or Logos can mean the plan or thought as it existed in the mind of God. This thought was a predestined plan . . . the Son did not have pre-existence before the conception in the womb of Mary. The Son of God pre-existed in thought but not in substance” (The Oneness of God, p. 103).

In UPC theology Jesus did preexist, but as the Father: “If there is only one God and that God is the Father (Malachi 2:10), and if Jesus is God, then it logically follows that Jesus is the Father” (Ibid., 66).

Negative Implications

There are two negative implications arising from the UPC view of God.

First, and I briefly mentioned this earlier, when a group denies the preexistence of the Son (i.e. that the Son existed as a person before the incarnation) as the Son, they end up believing in another Jesus, a Jesus contrary to the Jesus that is taught in the Bible. The Bible teaches that the preincarnate Jesus, the “Word” of John 1:1, is a person. The teaching of John 1:1 is that the Word was “with” the Father (clause b). The rub with the UPC lies in the debate of whether the Word is a person or a “thought.” The UPC position that the Word is a thought in the Father’s mind is not supported by further segments of the Gospel of John. For example, what did Jesus mean when He stated, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was”? Note carefully the “I” of Jesus’ statement. Jesus, as a person who can say “I,” experienced glory “with” the Father “before the world was.” This evidences a personal preexistence of Jesus with the Father prior to Jesus’ incarnation. Some UPC teachers explain the dialogue of prayer between Jesus and the Father in this way: Jesus’ human nature was praying to His divine nature. We, however, must ask whether it is possible for natures to communicate with each other, or whether it is more reasonable to believe that persons communicate with each other!

Second, if there is only one person in the Godhead (as the UPC believes), and that person is Jesus, how does this affect the doctrine of the atonement of Jesus and the doctrine of the mediatorship of Jesus? How, in UPC theology, does Jesus make atonement TO the Father, and how does he mediate for us TO the Father? In the UPC literature that I have read, Jesus’ human nature made atonement to His divine nature, and Jesus’ human nature mediates for us to His divine nature. One reason we might reject this interpretation lies in the Old Testament, where the person of a priest of Israel brings the offering of atonement made to God (See Lev. 4). Another reason is that the plain meaning of 1 John 2:1 (“we have an advocate with the Father”; emphasis mine) is that two persons are involved, Jesus and the Father, when Jesus mediates for us.

With these kinds of beliefs, the UPC cannot be considered a Christian group. Its denial of the Trinity and its view of Jesus place it outside the pale of classic, biblical orthodoxy.

Heaven: The Best Kept Secret in Town

On Saturday morning your next-door neighbors hear a knock at their door. They greet two neatly dressed people who introduce themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs). Immediately the JWs begin to tell your friends about “paradise on earth,” wherein most of the followers of Jehovah will live forever. “Heaven,” exclaim the JWs, “will be heaven on earth!” “I never heard that before,” say your neighbors, even though they have attended church services almost all their lives. Sadly, all too many Christians (and I was one of them) do not hear about “the best kept secret in town” because it is rarely mentioned in sermons and in Bible study groups.

True, JWs can in no biblical sense be labeled as Christians. They deny the deity of Jesus Christ, His bodily resurrection, the Trinity, etc. However, they are correct when they say heaven will be paradise on earth (though, of course, they are incorrect as to who will dwell in heaven, and heretical concerning the definition of the God who will reign in heaven). The good news is that we can share with JWs that we believe in “paradise on earth.”

Following are excerpts adapted from my Christian Faith 101, copyright © 2000 by Judson Press. Used by permission of Judson Press, 800-4-JUDSON, www.judsonpress.com.

Heaven

Before we start with the adapted excerpts, I need to state that I believe that Christians, when they die before Christ’s return, go immediately to be with the Lord in heaven. But this stage of heaven is only part of the picture, and, sadly, the only part that receives the most attention. There is more to heaven, and this has been “the best kept secret in” – oh, well, you get the point! Let’s begin.

There are a few shades of meaning to the word “heaven.” First, heaven is that which refers to the universe. It is used this way in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The second meaning of heaven is the place of God. Jesus teaches us to pray to “our Father who art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). Further, Christ ascended to the Father who is in heaven, and continually exercises His office as mediator in heaven. “For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:24). Presently heaven is beyond our physical perception, but the Bible also teaches us what heaven will be like in the future.

The New Eden

In Christian eschatology heaven will be Eden restored. A few things lead to this conclusion. First, we learn from Scripture that it will be a place where the present heaven of God will become united with the things on earth. Heaven is, as Paul writes, “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth” (Eph. 1:10). Second, the realities of the new heaven and earth listed in Revelation chapters 21-22 strongly suggest a restoring of what was lost in the Garden of Eden. Both humanity (those righteous in Christ) and the creation are restored to their original perfection talked about in Genesis chapters 1-2.

For example, Revelation 21:4 tells us that “there shall no longer be any death . . . or pain.” This is a reversal of the curses listed in Genesis chapter 3. By disobeying the Lord death came upon Adam and Eve (and us). God said that if they disobeyed Him, they would “surely die” (Gen. 2:17). This became a reality after sinning, for God then said, “to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). As for pain, a specific curse is pronounced upon Eve: “In pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16).

Another unmistakable parallel provides more evidence that heaven is Eden restored. Genesis 2:10 reads, “Now a river flowed out of Eden.” Revelation 22:1 speaks of the new heaven and new earth having “a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” Also note that just after Eden’s river is mentioned in Genesis 2:10, one of the rivers (the Pishon) flowing out from that main river is associated with gold, bdellium, and onyx (Gen. 2:11-12). Revelation 21:18-21 features all the precious elements that are associated with the “river of the water of life.” This water of life signifies God as the source of our salvation; the river’s presence in the new heaven and earth signifies God’s presence with us there forever.

And how about Genesis 3:24 / Revelation 21:15? The sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was of such magnitude that they became sinful creatures. Because of this the Lord drove them out of the garden (Gen. 3:24). Nothing impure could stay in God’s presence in the garden. Anything impure was outside. In the Book of Revelation, the New Eden is no different. Here again we find a parallel to the Eden of Genesis: “Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (Rev. 22:15). In short, anything to do with sin is not allowed into the New Eden.

Yet another example is found in Revelation 22:2. Describing the New Jerusalem, John writes, “And on either side of the river was the tree of life.” This “tree of life” does sound familiar! It is found in Genesis 2:9. “The tree of life [was] also in the midst of the garden.” Heaven is going to be “paradise on earth.” We will indeed live forever in heaven.

I saved the most important point for last. Heaven is the place of the presence of God. Genesis 3:8 implies that the relationship between God and Adam and Eve was of the highest intimacy. Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden.” This shows that they once enjoyed His direct presence. In Genesis 3:24 the Lord “drove the man out” of the Garden of Eden after he sinned (we should assume that Eve was driven out with him). The significance of this driving out is that Adam and Eve were no longer in the presence of God. But for those who put their trust in the biblical Jesus, this curse is reversed! Revelation 21:3 reads, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them.’” What is the goal of all this? God is. Who are we to desire? We are to desire God. Heaven is the fullness of the reconciliation of humanity to God (already begun in Christ). Heaven is living forever in glorified bodies (see Phil. 3:20-21) in the awesome presence of the triune God of the universe.

What a great promise! I pray that our desire will always be God. I pray that our desire will always be the desire to see God’s glory. Wanting heaven is wanting God. Rejoice and stand on this promise: “He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev. 21:7).

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christ’s Resurrection

Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. They believe that Jesus was crucified on an upright pole (“torture stake”), and that He died and was buried in a tomb. Sometime during the three days Jehovah God disposed of Jesus’ body. It was forever gone. Jesus was then raised as a spirit creature. To explain the bodily appearances of Jesus after his “resurrection,” JWs teach that Jehovah God fashioned different bodies for Jesus that were made to resemble His body when He walked the earth. Thus Jesus “materialized” different bodies. Finally, after appearing to His disciples as recorded in the Books of Acts, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father as a spirit creature.

To substantiate the doctrine that Jesus’ original body was not raised, that He was raised as a spirit creature, and that He was given different bodies resembling the original, JWs appeal to (1) certain scripture verses they believe teach He was not raised bodily, and (2) the “they did not recognize Him” argument. Before we examine these two categories, let’s first state the Christian position.

The Christian Position

The Bible teaches that Jesus’ body, the one He possessed when He walked the earth as God the Son, was raised from the dead.

John 2:19-21. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews therefore said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of His body.” This last verse is quite important, as the apostle John himself interprets what Jesus meant by “temple.” John states that it was “the temple of His body.” Note the pronoun “His.” It was His body. Thus, His body was raised. But JWs deny that it was His body. Rather, they teach that Jehovah disposed of Jesus’ body. In other words, JWs state that it was not His body that was raised. When sharing with JWs, you can ask them to read this passage from their own translation. While they read, pray for them. Make it clear that what they have been taught is contrary to the Bible, and ask them to put faith in Christ’s true resurrection.

John 20:24-27. In this passage Thomas doubts that the other disciples saw Jesus after His resurrection. Jesus then appears to them and states to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side” (v. 27). This is further scriptural proof of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. It is very important to note here that the JWs interpret this passage to mean that Jesus received from Jehovah a different materialized body, that it was not Jesus’ original body. This is why it is important to start with John 2:19-21 and then move to this passage. This same method applies to our next passage proving Jesus’ bodily resurrection.

Luke 24:36-39. Here Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples, but they were frightened, thinking they were seeing a spirit. Jesus then comforts them: “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (v. 39).

JWs Counter-Arguments Answered

We begin with the first of the two categories of counter-arguments of JWs mentioned earlier, and follow with a Christian answer to the arguments.

1 Corinthians 15:50. In this verse the apostle Paul states, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” This perhaps is the most popular verse that JWs use to substantiate their view that Jesus was not raised bodily from the dead. At first glance this seems to be an overwhelming refutation of the Christian position. But is it?

JWs usually leave out the remainder of the verse: “Nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” This provides the key to understanding the first part of this verse so often cited by JWs. Note that Paul, throughout the preceding verses, is contrasting two different states of existence in an “A-B” type of flow. Let’s start with verse 42 and move through the passage. Verse 42: A—the perishable body, B—the imperishable body. Verse 43: A—body sown in dishonor, B—raised in glory; A—sown in weakness, raised in power. Move to verse 46: A—natural, B—spiritual. Verses 47-49: A—earthly, B—heavenly. Now, by the time we get to verse 50, we have A(1)—flesh and blood contrasted with B(1)—kingdom of God and A(2)—perishable contrasted with B(2) imperishable. Thus, “flesh and blood” belongs in the A category. The JWs, then, assume that Christians place Jesus’ resurrected body in the A category, and then refute Christians with the “flesh and blood” citation. But Christians do not place Jesus’ resurrected body in the A category, which is the mortal, sinful, perishable category; rather, they place it in the B category, which is imperishable, perfect, and glorified. Finally, it is perfectly in harmony with scripture to affirm that Jesus’ resurrected body (John 2:19-22) is therefore imperishable, immortal and glorified, and therefore belongs in the B category of 1 Corinthians 15.

In the last edition of The Sounding Board I briefly outlined the Christian position of the bodily resurrection of Jesus (He was raised in the same body that died on the cross) and began to answer Jehovah’s Witnesses’ (JWs) counter-arguments, beginning with 1 Corinthians 15:50. In this issue I continue to answer counter-arguments.

JWs Counter-Arguments Answered

1 Peter 3:18. This verse reads that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” The JWs translation (New World Translation, a perverted translation that robs Christ of His deity) and the New American Standard Bible (a legitimate translation) read virtually the same here. The JWs argue from this verse that Jesus’ body was put to death (and then forever disposed of by Jehovah) but then His spirit was resurrected (“made alive in the spirit,” i.e., His spirit only was raised). I shall focus on answering this latter point.

There are two ways to answer this misinterpretation by JWs. First is simply to call attention to the New International Version. This respected translation states that Jesus was “made alive by the Spirit,” meaning that Jesus was resurrected by the Holy Spirit. Second is to interpret the phrases “in the flesh” and “in the spirit” as referring to the spheres or realms in which Jesus was put to death and made alive. He was put to death in the realm of the flesh (that is, the fleshly realm, where soldiers nailed him to the cross). But He was made alive in the spiritual realm. It is here that verses 19-20 follow nicely, “In which [i.e., in the spiritual realm to which Peter just referred] He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, who once were disobedient . . . in the days of Noah.” So the flow here is that Jesus was put to death in the fleshly realm, but made alive to go into the spiritual realm were disobedient spirits existed.

Next I examine three passages wherein JWs make the claim, “They did not recognize Jesus.”

Luke 24:16. JWs assert that the two persons on the Emmaus road “did not recognize Him.” A closer reading of the verse, however, reveals that the two “were kept from recognizing him” (New World Translation). There is quite a difference here. JWs claim that the two did not recognize Jesus because he had another body made to look like the one with which He walked the earth. The fact is, though, that Jesus appeared to them in the same body (see John 2:19-21, cf. Luke 24:36-39), and that they were kept from recognizing Him.

John 20:14. Mary Magdalene “did not discern it was Jesus” (New World Translation), say JWs. But upon closer examination of the context, there is an answer to their argument. Beginning with verse 1 we find a number of phenomena that distracted Mary from discerning that it was Jesus who appeared to her. She came to the tomb, only to find the stone removed from the opening of the tomb. She therefore thought someone had taken away the Lord’s body (v. 2). Further, just before Jesus’ appearance to her she was weeping (v. 11) and saw two angels (v. 12). Once Jesus appeared, Mary had her back to Him (v. 14) and then turned, but did not discern it was the Lord. She then turned her back to Jesus again (implied in v. 16) but then turned toward Him a second time after He called her name. She then discerned it was Jesus.

The main point I wish to make is that the fault lies with Mary that she did not discern it was Jesus, not that Jesus had a different body. Mary was preoccupied with the several phenomena previously noted, and therefore did not recognize Him at first. Let’s suppose you are window shopping at the local mall. With most of your attention given to various items in the windows of stores, you happen to look at your best friend 20-30 feet away. You quickly turn back to your window gazing, not discerning that it was your friend. Then moments later your friend approaches you and you apologize, saying, “Sorry, I looked directly at you but did not recognize you. I was so into these displays.” Certainly your friend did not possess another body. The fault, rather, was yours due to your preoccupation.

John 21:4. The New World Translation of the JWs reads, “Jesus stood on the beach, but the disciples did not, of course, discern that it was Jesus.” Again the assumption of JWs is that Jesus had another body, not His original body, for that body was forever gone. This is the reason the disciples did not discern it was Jesus. But, again, a closer look at the context reveals the JWs misinterpretation. First, it was just becoming morning (v. 4), so we assume here that the brightest part of the day had not yet occurred. Second, in verse 8 we read that the disciples were 300 feet away in a boat!

Conclusion

Though at first glance JWs arguments for their denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ might seem powerful, upon examination of the contexts of biblical passages cited by them we find that they have misinterpreted these passages. A knowledge of the correct understanding of these texts by Christians can lead to a very powerful witnessing opportunity with JWs. May the Lord give us His grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to engage them fruitfully when they come knocking at our doors.

Jesus: Yaweh the Son?

There is an aspect of the study of the person and work of Christ that is often missed by Christians, both in personal study and in witnessing to those who deny Christ’s deity. This theme is simple yet so profound that it is both a powerful witness and a marvelous way to enrich one’s view of Christ. It is this: What Jesus says and does in the New Testament is what the LORD (Yahweh) says and does in the Old Testament. With the exception of the first passage, the following edited excerpts are from my book, Knowing Christ in the Challenge of Heresy (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1999). They will, I pray, aid you to know Christ better through this theme and will provide a stronger witness to his deity to those who reject who and what He claimed to be.

Matthew 8:26b

“Then He [Jesus] arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and it became perfectly calm.” In Matthew, Jesus is the storm-stiller; in Psalm 107:29, the LORD (Yahweh) is the storm-stiller. The parallels between Matthew 8 and Psalm 107 are startling. Note that just as the disciples are terrified (8:25), so are those on ships upon the sea (107:27); just as the disciples cry out to the Lord Jesus (8:25), so do those in ships cry out to the LORD (107:28). These parallels are no mere coincidence. Jesus is “being” Yahweh the Son.

Matthew 24:30-31

The Son of Man will be seen “coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” when He sends forth His angels. Yet, in the Old Testament Yahweh is the only true and living “cloud-rider” (see Pss. 18:9-11; 104:3; Isa. 19:1; Nah. 1:3). The Jews knew this, for when Jesus asserts once again that He will be coming on the clouds of heaven, they charge him with blasphemy (see Lev. 24:16).

Mark 1:3

Mark witnesses to the deity of Christ as Isaiah 40:3 is quoted: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’” John the Baptist is “the voice,” and Jesus is “the Lord.” Isaiah 40:3 reads, “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD [Yahweh] in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.’” According to this text, someone is going to come to prepare the way for Yahweh. In the Gospels it is John the Baptist who comes to prepare the way for Jesus (Luke 1:17, esp. 1:76).

Jesus is the Yahweh spoken of in Isaiah 40:3. All the events in Mark evidence this: the Isaiah text is quoted (Mark 1:3), John the Baptist is introduced (Mark 1:4), and Jesus is introduced (Mark 1:9). John the Baptist is the “messenger” of Malachi (Mal. 3:1; 4:5), and is the instrument used to prepare the way of Yahweh, to “make His paths straight.” This phrase refers to the bringing of repentance, which was the focus of John’s ministry as he prepared the way for Yahweh the Messiah, Son of God.

John 12:41

“These things Isaiah said, because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.” The “things Isaiah said” are found in Isaiah 53:1 and 6:10 and are quoted in John: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed” (John 12:38 cf. Isa. 53:1); “He has blinded their eyes, and He hardened their heart; lest they see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them” (John 12:40 cf. Isa. 6:10).

Of whom does John speak in 12:41 when he states that Isaiah saw His glory, and Isaiah spoke of Him? It is Jesus. The use of “Him” in verses 37 and 41 is significant. In verse 37, though Jesus was performing many great signs, they were not believing in Him. In verse 41 Isaiah saw His glory, and Isaiah spoke of Him. Since “Him” in verse 37 clearly refers to Jesus, and since there is in this whole passage no reference to the Father, “Him” in verse 41 must refer to Jesus.

But the whole focus is on 6:1, 5, where Isaiah sees “the Lord,” and later identifies this Lord as “the King, the LORD of Hosts.” John therefore states that Isaiah beheld Yahweh the Son in His preincarnate glory.

Romans 1:1

In the very first verse of Paul’s Epistle to the saints in Rome we have the affirmation that Christ is God the Son: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”

Of whom is Paul a servant? He is a servant of Jesus. Christ owns Paul. Paul belongs to Christ. The Old Testament background to this statement by Paul affords to Jesus that which belongs to Yahweh. The startling claim that he was a “servant of Christ Jesus” (see also Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1) draws one immediately to those who were servants of Yahweh. Abraham (Gen. 26:24; Ps. 105:6, 42), Moses (Num. 12:7, 8; Deut. 34:5; Josh. 1:1, 2, 7; Ps. 105:26), Joshua (Josh. 24:29; Judg. 2:8), David (2 Sam. 7:5, 8; Pss. 78:70; 89:3, 20; Isa. 37:35), Isaiah (Isa. 20:3), the prophets (Ezra 9:11; Jer. 7:25; Dan. 9:6; Amos 3:7; Zech. 1:6), and other believers (Pss. 34:22; 113:1; Israel as a people, 136:22 and Isa. 43:10 cf. 1 Cor. 4:1; Col. 4:12; Eph. 6:6) are called servants of Yahweh. Paul is identifying Jesus as his Lord, the one of whom he is a servant. In so doing he places Jesus in the Old Testament position of LORD. In effect he calls Christ Yahweh.

2 Peter 3:18

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” First, grace is given by Christ to His covenant people. It is His grace to give by His divine prerogative, since it is Yahweh Himself who is full of grace and truth (see Exod. 34:6 cf. John 1:14). Second, believers are to grow in the knowledge of Christ. He is the object of knowledge. With the Old Testament command given by Yahweh to know Him (Jeremiah 9:23-24), this admonition by Peter places the Son in the position of deity. Third is the ascription of eternal glory to Jesus Christ. These words of praise can only be given to Yahweh, for He alone is worthy to be glorified for all eternity (Ps. 86:12). Simply put, if Jesus is not God the Son, then Peter is a blasphemer.

God Calling: Is It?

I’ve seen it listed under “Best Sellers” in Christian book catalogues. I’ve seen it on shelves with other books under the sign, “Best Picks” in Christian bookstores. That this book should be in Christian book catalogues and in Christian bookstores is cause enough for alarm, but what makes the situation all the more alarming is that it is a best seller! Why? One would think that since the book has been around long enough (my earliest copy dates to 1945), Christians should have circulated the word of warning by now. After reading this book my first response was, “What is wrong with Christians? Are we so ignorant of the truth that we cannot smell a lie?”

God Calling is edited by A. J. Russell and published by Fleming H. Revell (Old Tappan, N.J.) by arrangement with Dodd, Mead & Company. Note that Russell is not the author. Rather, two women who desire to be known as the “Two Listeners” and want to remain anonymous are responsible for the book. Or are they? The book, one of the Two Listeners claims, contains “beautiful messages . . . given to her [i.e. her friend, the other Listener] by the Lord Himself.” The Listener continues in the Introduction:

We felt all unworthy and overwhelmed by the wonder of it, and could hardly realize that we were being taught, trained and encouraged day by day by HIM personally, when millions of souls, far worthier, had to be content with guidance from the Bible, sermons, their Churches, books and other sources (p. 12).

Near the end of the Introduction, the Listeners claim, “So to us this book, which we believe has been guided by our Lord Himself, is no ordinary book” (p. 13). Then begin the Lord’s words, almost 200 pages of teachings under the rubric of 365 daily devotionals beginning with January 1 and ending with December 31. But are they the words of the Lord, as A. J. Russell believes (p. 5)?

Teachings

First, I should note that the book does not contain 100% error. There are statements in the book that square with what the Bible teaches. But this does not let God Calling off the hook. After all, there are statements in numerous volumes of cultic literature that coincide with biblical teaching. But there are enough errors in this literature that negate essential Christianity so as to make it definitely anti-Christian. In short, though there are statements in God Calling that are not heretical, even one heretical statement is enough to make the book suspect, since it claims to be the very words of Jesus Himself. But there is not merely one error in the book, there are several.

The Jesus of God Calling states, “I am at the center of every man’s being, but, distracted with the things of the sense-life, he finds Me not” (p. 55, March 16). This is quite unbiblical. Jesus makes no such statement in the New Testament that agrees with this. Rather, as Paul states, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Here “you” means believers, the “saints” to whom Paul addressed his Letter to the Colossians (Col. 1:2), not every person.

The Jesus of God Calling states, “Love can and does go round the world, passed on the God-currents from one to another” (p. 111, June 30). This as well assumes that Jesus is at the center of everyone. And just what are God-currents”?

The Jesus of God Calling talks of prosperity in ways that are likened to some of the teachers in the Word-Faith Movement, or to the Unity School of Christianity, a Mind Science prosperity cult with roots in Christian Science. “The storehouses of God are full to overflowing, but you must see this in your mind. Be sure of this before you can realize it in material form. Think thoughts of plenty” (p. 166, October 15; see also pp. 116,122,159). Here the power of positive thinking lays hold of what we truly deserve, i.e. “plenty.” The idea is to think plenty so that what is in the spiritual will materialize in the natural. The next day (October 16, p. 167) features the title “The Imprisoned God.” Here Jesus tells us to “release the imprisoned God-Power within you.” “That power,” we are further told, “will immediately perform miracles” (ibid.). Biblically, is it the “God-Power” that performs miracles, or does God do it through His power? It is the latter. Again, this is more akin to the unbiblical teachings of Word-Faith teachers, New Age prosperity teachers, and forms of Eastern philosophy promulgating the inner-god imprisoned in flesh.
The Jesus of God Calling also asks us to dwell on the phrase “God is Love.” This is all well and good if we dwell on this phrase as the Bible intends it. The phrase occurs in 1 John 4:8. “God is love,” writes John. But then John defines the phrase: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The phrase “God is love,” then, occurs squarely in the context of Christ dying for our sins. The Jesus of God Calling, however, partly concludes from the biblical phrase the following: “God is Love . . . no judging” (p. 70, April 16). Is this the intent of 1 John?

Are we not to judge? Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7 has oftentimes been misinterpreted by Christians to mean that we are not to judge anyone or anything. Jesus’ words, “Do not judge lest you be judged yourselves” (Matt. 7:1), mean that we should not judge hypocritically, i.e. we should not judge others when we ourselves are doing the very same things others are! (Matt. 7:2-5) And what do we make of the actions and words of Paul, who “decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit might be saved” (1 Cor. 5:5), and who asked with an affirmative answer implied, “Do you not judge those who are within the church?” (1 Cor. 5:12) The truth is, Christians must indeed judge for the welfare of individual Christians as well as the church.

Conclusion

The Jesus of God Calling is not the biblical Jesus. The Jesus of God Calling contradicts the biblical Jesus and the words of his chosen instruments, who, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the providence of God the Father, gave to us the writings of the New Testament. I cannot recommend that Christians read God Calling for any other reason than to be able to warn others who are. Further, I am appalled that the book has reached best seller status in the Christian community. The popularity of this book is a symptom of what ails the Church today—virtually no discernment, no deep biblical knowledge, a sugar-coated view of God, and a desire for the what-can-I-get-out-of-God rather than a desire to know God more deeply through the study of His word.

I for one say, “Wake up, Church!”

Yoga: For Christians?

Let us say that Tammy and Bill are Christians and members of the local Christian church in town. They faithfully attend Sunday services and a Wednesday evening Bible study, which they host in their own home. They seem to be in pretty good shape, too. In fact, every morning of the week they both wake up at 5:30 and exercise. Their routine? Thirty minutes of yoga. Hatha Yoga, to be exact.

A few months ago they met a yoga teacher through a friend from church, who introduced them to the benefits of Hatha (pronounced hut-ha) Yoga. Raving about how it makes him so relaxed throughout the day, this friend slipped Tammy and Bill the business card of the Yoga teacher and encouraged them to “try it out.” They did, and they liked what they got! Since then they have talked to friends at the church about Hatha Yoga. Oh, sure, they have been asked once or twice about whether Hatha is spiritual in any way, but their teacher assured them that it does not have to be. So, Tammy and Bill tell others that they are “in it for the exercise alone.”

Should Christians perform Yoga? Before you answer, here are some things you need to know.

What Is Yoga?

In an ancient language of India known as Sanskrit, the noun yoga comes from the verb yuj — to yoke, to join. When placed in the context of spiritual philosophy, yoga means “union; a process or path of discipline leading to oneness with the Divine or oneself” (John Grimes, A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy [Albany: Sate University of New York Press, 1989] 410).

What many Westerners do not know is that there are many types of Yoga. For example, we have Jñana Yoga (union with God through knowledge), Bhakti Yoga (union through devotion to a deity), and Karma Yoga (union through selfless action). By far the most popular form of Yoga in the West is Hatha Yoga.

What is Hatha Yoga?

Hatha is comprised of two Sanskrit words — Ha means the sun, and Tha means the moon (Usharbudh Arya, Philosophy of Hatha Yoga [Honesdale, Pa.: Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the USA, 1985] 2). As one’s consciousness begins to rise, sun and moon are no longer simply associated with objects that illumine our days and nights, but are associated with spiritual truths of the body as it relates to the universe (ibid.). Through different postures (asanas) and breath control (pranayama) the serpent power (kundalini) that is the “sleeping spiritual force in every human being [and] lies coiled at the base of the spine” is awakened as it rises through several energy centers (chakras) in the body (The Encyclopedia of Eastern Religion and Philosophy [Boston: Shambhala, 1989] 190, 58). The goal, then, of Hatha Yoga is “to transform the human body to make it a worthy vehicle for Self-realization” (Georg Feuerstein, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Yoga [New York: Paragon House, 1990] 133). Self-realization is not to be defined through western lenses, but rather through the lenses of various Indian philosophies. Generally speaking, the “Self” is the Divine or God within us all. Through Hatha Yoga we can realize that we are God or one with God.

Christians who practice Hatha Yoga need to realize that even though in their minds they are in it merely for exercise, the practice itself, in Indian philosophy, cannot be divorced from its spiritual connotations. “Thus, yoga should not be practiced for the sake of perfecting the postures only. This is a particular problem in the West, where yoga has become especially popular in the form of hatha yoga. The goal of hatha yoga ultimately is to attain the goal of raja [royal] yoga, that is, Self-realization” (Rajmani Tigunait, in the Introduction of Hatha Yoga: Manual I (Honesdale, Pa.: Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the USA, 1985] 2). I once asked a yogin (a teacher of Yoga) if the postures of Hatha Yoga could be divorced from its spiritual philosophy. He answered, “At first it is possible, but later one naturally will progress toward the spiritual philosophy.”

Considerations

In light of the above, Christians who practice Hatha Yoga need to consider whether the LORD wants them to practice Hatha Yoga or not.

First, they need to consider the realm of the demonic. Could demons be associated with this practice? To answer this, they need to think through the fact that Hatha Yoga was not formed merely for the benefits of physical exercise. It was formed with the goal of realizing the God within, a theology that is contrary to that of the Bible. Biblically, specific theological structures that are not of God are pointed out by the apostles to be closely connected with the devil and his minions ( I Cor. 11:13-15; Eph. 6:11-12; 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 John 4:1-5).

Second, they need to consider whether their practice of Hatha Yoga will lead others into it, and consequently toward Hatha’s ultimate goal of realizing the God within.

Conclusion

Having studied various philosophies of Hinduism, both formally and informally, I believe that Christians should not practice Hatha Yoga. Because of what the word yoga means and the philosophy behind Hatha Yoga, and because of the considerations mentioned above, Christians should seek other forms of exercise (for some of us, under the direction of a medical professional).

Pluralism: Poison of the Church

“When I see . . . an example of what a noble army of martyrs, women and children included, suffered in those days ‘for the testimony of Jesus,’ . . . I confess myself edified by what I read, chiefly because I am humbled and abashed in comparing what a Christian used to be, with what a Christian is, in our times, even at his best estate.” — A. C. Coxe

One of the examples of martyrs to which Professor Coxe referred was a disciple of the Apostle John, named Polycarp. Polycarp was martyred around A.D. 155 by Roman authorities. After being seized and on his way to his execution, two Roman leaders taunted him with commands to confess “Cæsar is Lord.” He would not. The confession “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9) meant that Jesus alone is Lord. As a result Polycarp was burned alive. This exemplar of the Faith is one of countless numbers of Christians who centuries ago willingly went to their deaths rather than confess anyone else as Lord. They would rather be counted worthy of allegiance only to Christ and consequently be burned alive or thrown to wild beasts than confess someone else as Lord.

Today many calling themselves Christians have a totally different confession, namely that even though they confess Jesus as Lord, there are other equally valid ways of salvation and other Lords for other people. Christ, they say, is the way for them, but certainly people can be saved apart from faith in Christ. Therefore Krishna, the way of Buddha, Allah, etc., are equally valid as ways of salvation, nirvana, or God consciousness. This is pluralism, the idea that the ways of salvation are many (plural). And there are others calling themselves Christians who sympathize with this position. They advocate what I term semi-pluralism, the view that a person who is a pluralist is a Christian. Semi-pluralists also believe that a pluralist who teaches others that Jesus is not the only way is not a false teacher. In short, for semi-pluralists the doctrine of the uniqueness of Christ is not essential to affirm for salvation. Put another way, the semi-pluralist believes that “Christians” can believe Jesus is Lord, but at the same time intently reject Jesus as the only way. In both these scenarios, pluralism has reared its head against the Church of Christ. What follows is a case in point illustrating pluralism and semi-pluralism.

Douglas K. Stuart
In 1995 I became a member of First Church Congregational in Boxford, Massachusetts. Douglas K. Stuart was the senior pastor. Stuart is also a professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, and is co-author of How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth. After becoming a member of First Church, I began to hear of a church tradition that took place on Memorial Day. The tradition was a pulpit swap—on one Memorial Day Sunday Stuart would preach at a neighboring church, and on the next Memorial Day Sunday the minister of that neighboring church would preach at First Church. On these occasions the two churches would gather together at the location of the host church. I had also heard rumors of the visiting minister being heretical in theology. It was then that I decided to visit this neighboring church to find out exactly what the neighboring church’s minister believed. After all, I am one who staunchly believes that anyone teaching and preaching at a church that I attend must be sound in doctrine.

So I attended one service at this church. After the service I approached the minister in order to find out what she believed. I asked her a series of questions that were supposed to lead to the all important question, “Is Jesus the only way of salvation?” When I arrived at that point, she noticed that I was heading there, and asked the question herself, “Is Jesus the only way?” I replied, “Yes, is He?” She said “Absolutely not, I know of many fine Jewish people and it is hard for me to think they are going to hell just because they do not believe in Jesus.” I then asked, “So Krishna and Buddha are other ways?” She said, “Yes, but Jesus is the way for me.”

I then took this news to the deacons of First Church, thinking that this would be a “no-brainer.” Simply put, the visiting minister should not be allowed to preach at First Church. However, what followed in that deacons’ meeting rendered the preaching issue a remote secondary concern. Douglas Stuart stated to the deacons that the visiting minister, in spite of denying that Jesus is the only way, was a “Liberal Christian” and “not a false teacher.” Months later he would defend his position at a meeting at First Church, and he used the Bible to do it! In his mind a person can intently reject Jesus as the only way and still be a Christian. Moreover, that person can teach others that Jesus is not the only way without being a false teacher. At that meeting I stood up and publicly rebuked Douglas Stuart, calling him to repent and warning those assembled that he was deceiving them. To my sad realization, an elder, two deacons and other members of First Church defended Stuart and challenged me! As a result of Stuart’s lecture some elders, the associate pastor, and deacons adopted Stuart’s compromising theology. In time it became clear that First Church was not going to discipline Stuart.

I took the issue to Gordon-Conwell Seminary. One other witness and I wrote separate letters to the institution. I also supplied the audiotape of Stuart’s lecture in which he defended his position. Then came another surprise. Stuart would not allow the investigating committee to listen to the tape, stating that it was taped without his permission. Further, the committee did not call the other witness or me. It was all done behind closed doors. Gordon-Conwell then stated in a letter to me that Douglas Stuart “is in conformity to the school’s Basis of Faith” (letter dated 17 October 1997 from Kenneth L. Swetland, Academic Dean, on behalf of the investigating committee). Further, Gordon-Conwell made this troubling statement: “In the technical sense in which Dr. Stuart views II John 7 where the false teacher is an itinerate deceiver, it is possible for a person to hold false doctrine without being a false teacher” (ibid., emphases mine). I wrote back (1) stating that either Stuart has lied, or I have, and that either way someone has to be disciplined, and (2) asking if the committee really believed what they wrote to me, i.e. that “it is possible for a person to hold false doctrine [denying the uniqueness of Christ] without being a false teacher.” Another letter to me followed, not answering my questions, and closed with a request for me to cease making phone calls and to cease correspondence.

[The reader should note that SDM recognizes that Doug Stuart has recently, on paper, affirmed orthodoxy. However, this affirmation was not made to the people he misled in his first lecture in which he defended his position. This seeming change of position strongly conflicts with the aforementioned situation. Despite several meetings with him with SDM staff, he has failed to publicly repent or admit to any false teaching on his part, though documentation exists to substantiate claims of false teaching made in this newsletter.]

Back to Polycarp

Compare the martyrdom and theology of Polycarp with the theology of Douglas Stuart. Did Polycarp (not to mention the hundreds of thousands of present-day martyrs) die for something non-essential? When pressed by the Roman authorities, would he have been accepted by the Christian community as a pluralist “liberal Christian,” stating, “How about this? Jesus is Lord for me, but certainly I believe that people can just as well confess Cæsar as Lord and be saved”? What if Polycarp actively taught this to others besides these authorities? It seems that Douglas Stuart would not label the pluralist Polycarp a false teacher! Such theology flies in the face of the Lord of glory Himself, who stated, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me” (John 14:6; see Acts 4:12). Such theology trivializes the doctrine of the uniqueness of Christ, a doctrine upon which Christianity stands or falls.

Conclusion

Pluralism has indeed invaded the Church of Jesus Christ. It has paralyzed in many instances the platform of the Church that throughout the ages was laid on the ground of orthodoxy. To tolerate in any way heretical notions of the multiplicity of ways of salvation is itself heretical. Douglas Stuart is one of many sad cases where the Church has been led astray. If Stuart and others are found correct in their views, and if these kinds of pluralistic compromises multiply beyond count and become the norm, then Christianity would no longer be Christianity. If allowed to go unchecked, the mighty proclamation of the apostles that empowered their ministry—the non-negotiable doctrine of the uniqueness of Christ—would disappear, and biblical Christianity with it! But thankfully our Lord Jesus Christ has promised to build His Church, and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). And it is because of this promise that He indeed raises up His faithful remnant to sound the warning, to stand up and say “NO!” to cancerous compromises, and to call people back to the historical prologue of the covenant: “I [alone!] am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”

Let this awful and unbiblical compromise be a warning to all of us. Let us, with the courage of Polycarp that is grounded in the Scriptures, never compromise and poison the exclusive Gospel of Christ with pluralistic notions and ever be ready to stand up to defend the Faith once for all entrusted unto the saints (Jude 3).

Jehovah’s Witnesses & the Truth

What would you do if someone attended your church service, sat through it quietly, and at the end singled you out to share with you that your pastor and your particular church are teaching false doctrine and have a history of setting dates for the end of the world? Would you be interested in what that person had to say? Would you be interested in seeing actual documentation that proves that person’s point? In short, would you be interested in the truth, enough so that you would spend any amount of time necessary to talk about doctrine and look over that documentation?

I sure hope you would, and I know I would. But what about the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW’s)? Are they interested in the truth? Are they interested in spending whatever amount of time necessary with Christians who are ready to get into the Bible to prove the point that what JW’s believe about Jesus is false? Further, are they interested in looking at the false predictions of their leadership that the end of the world was coming on a particular date? In 15 years of outreach to JW’s, I have not encountered one of them who was interested enough to go the extra mile. Recent missions trips to one Kingdom Hall (where JW’s meet) serve as an example.

I and SDM Board member, George Jackman, spent three consecutive Thursday evenings visiting a local Kingdom Hall. Thursdays are “Book Study” nights, where JW’s study one of their books. At the end of the meeting we shared the biblical Jesus with two men, showing them Bible verses from their own translation that contradicted what they presently believe. Both men reacted graciously, stating that they would do the necessary research and have answers for us the next week.

When George and I returned the next week, the two men were not there, due to scheduling problems. Nonetheless, we attended the meeting, praying that the Lord would bring to us more JW’s with whom to share. At the end of that meeting, a woman came up and introduced herself. After a few moments of introductory conversation, I asked her if she would read a Bible verse from her own translation that shows that Jesus is God the Son. “No, I’m not interested!” she replied. I encouraged her to read the verse, but to no avail. She made a few remarks about once being a Southern Baptist and never understanding the Trinity, and then turned around and left.

At that moment another man walked up to us to introduce himself. When the meeting first started I guessed that this man was not yet a JW, and that he was being indoctrinated with JW teachings. After a few pleasantries I asked him if he would read some documented statements where JW leadership claimed the position of Jehovah’s “prophet” and predicted the end of the world. “I’m not interested,” he said, and left. Immediately, another man came up to us. He was the one who led the Book Study. When I asked him the same question, he decided to look at the documentation, but was not convinced. I further shared with him some Bible verses proving the deity of Christ, but he was not interested in looking at them. During the ride home, George and I talked about “the wall” that seemed to be erected on this return visit. We wondered if “word had gotten ’round” about us.
Perhaps the third (and final) visit was proof enough that it had. When George and I returned the third week, we prayed that the two men we had encountered the first week would be there. They were. I had come prepared with further documentation of JW leadership’s claim to be a prophet. These statements posed even stronger evidence of this claim. When the Book Study leader whom we had talked with the week before walked by us, I greeted him and asked him to look at this new documentation. He simply refused to do so and told us that we were not allowed to share any of our “opinions” with anyone. I decided, then, to approach one of the two men we had talked with two weeks before on our first visit (who said he would research our questions). I told him of the Book Study leader’s rules, but he still decided to quickly show me what he had found. Unfortunately, his answers did not address my questions! He had in the past two weeks convinced himself that I had asked different questions than what I actually had asked! And he as well was not interested to pursue my questions any further.

Finally, I approached the other man we met the first week and asked him if he had answers for me. He told me flatly that he was not interested in talking with me. George and I then left the Kingdom Hall and prayed for these people during the ride home.

This experience leaves me with two questions. One concerns JW’s and the other concerns Christians. First, why are JW’s hesitant to go the extra mile—in our case to pursue us and be willing to spend any amount of time with us to show us the truth? Second, and this brings us to the first paragraph above, would we Christians go the extra mile with someone who challenged our beliefs?