Saturday, February 28, 2015

Has God Changed?

A friend asked a simple question as part of a research paper. He asked if God of the New Testament was the same as God of the Old Testament. Below was my attempt to answer his question.

Many have made the claim that the God of the Old Testament is angry and judicial whereas the God of the New Testament is kind, loving, and tolerant. This can be heard in everything from biblical debates to comedy bits. There's zero doubt that the claim is made. So far as this is concerned, it's a non-issue. What we have to determine is whether there is any validity to the claim. It's my position that there is not.

Malachi 3:6
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

James 1:17
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Revelation 1:8
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

The Bible is clear that God is not one who changes. Even if one wanted to argue that the God of the Old Testament was a different God, the argument would fail since Revelation tells us that the God of the New Testament is the very one who existed at the beginning. Yet, when we compare the Old Testament to the New Testament, there appears to be a clear distinction. Of course, due to the law of noncontradiction, they can't be different gods and the same God at the same time. It must be one or the other. When faced with a crossroads such as this, it's always a safe bet to assume our finite human understanding is flawed whereas the Word of God is not. The plain teaching of Scripture should always force us to change our views on something we can't seem to reconcile.

To begin, I believe many hold to an erroneous view of God when it comes to the Old Testament. Is He really an angry and mean God or are we simply failing to see His love, mercy, and grace? In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). After each day, He saw that it was good. He was satisfied. On the sixth day, after creating man, we see something special. Not only was it good, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Man was the pinnacle of God's creation. He made man perfectly upright to rule over creation. Sadly, this was not to last. By Genesis 3, we see mankind being tempted and falling into the first instance of sin. We see a curse being placed upon humanity. We see the fulfillment of what God promised would occur in Genesis 2:17. God promised that Adam would die if he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam knew this and he failed to shield his wife, the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7), from the enemy. What Adam didn't know is that he would represent all of humanity thenceforth (1 Corinthians 15:22). However, this wasn't referring to just a physical death but to a spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13). All of humanity is dead in sin and only Christ can make us alive again. We all fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23) and deserve nothing but death, both physical and spiritual, as a result (Romans 6:23). Therefore, God would have been perfectly just to destroy the earth and all it contained upon the moment of sin entering into His perfect world. Man tarnished God's creation and, as of that very moment, deserved nothing more than eternal torment as punishment for his actions.

Yet, over and over again, we see of God's mercy. Many view the Old Testament Law as being harsh but, truth be told, even that was an act of mercy. God could have left humanity alone to perish but He chose to reveal to them His righteous standard. He chose to raise godly men to lead them. He chose to bless those who rejected Him and to bless them abundantly. He gave His people land and a promise of a Savior to come. Yes, He held them accountable for their actions but this was because the Law had not yet been fulfilled (Matthew 5:17) though it had been broken in full.

What we see in the New Testamant isn't a new God but a God who had decreed that the fullness of time had come (Galatians 4:4). Those who were born under the Law would now be redeemed from that very same Law. Whereas before they fell under the law of sin and death, now they fell under the law of the Spirit of life. The former Law was weak and could never save. It could only instruct man of a standard they were incapable of keeping in their current fallen form. It required God, the same loving God of the Old Testament, to fulfill His Law by sending His own Son to die (Romans 8:2-3) as an atoning and substitutionary sacrifice (Isaiah 53:5).

Only when we have a proper understanding of fallen man's condition can we truly understand the love and restraint God displayed throughout all of the Old Testament. In many ways, the compassion of God in the Old Testament greatly exceeds that which we see in the New Testament. Of course, we know this is only our human understanding because, as stated in the beginning, "there is no variation or shadow due to change" when it comes to God.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Morning Among Mormons

 The following is an essay I recently wrote as a part of a college class. The idea behind the assignment was to visit a service of a faith group other than my own. After some consideration, I decided to attend the morning service of a local Mormon church. As you read on, my hope is that you will feel as if you were right there with me.

It was a brisk Sunday morning. As I pulled into the parking lot, I dreaded stepping out into the cold. Yet, at the same time, I looked forward to the experience that was at hand. With the strong winds beating against my face, I gazed up toward the tall steeple and began walking toward the church building. Apart from the unusual cold, this particular Sunday morning was different than most. Instead of attending my own Baptist church, I found myself visiting a local Mormon church. I knew I was in for a surprise but I was prepared for whatever the morning had in store.

As I crossed the threshold through the front door, I immediately felt the warmth surround me. At first, it was in the form of heat on a cold body. Next, it was in the form of tender love and friendliness. Looking like a fish out of water, I was welcomed by some of the congregants. They introduced themselves, retrieved a church bulletin for me, and told me to feel free to sit wherever I liked. Before sitting down, I engaged in some casual discussions with various unfamiliar faces. Though I didn’t know anybody in the sanctuary, I felt as though the awkwardness quickly subsided. Before I knew it, it was time to take a seat and begin the service.

In an effort to blend in, I took a seat in the back corner of the room. I opened my bulletin and glanced at the order of worship they had scheduled for the morning. The first thing that took me by surprise was the fact that they had two speakers listed. I wasn’t exactly sure what this meant but I was intrigued. As an elderly man was making announcements, I flipped my bulletin over to the other side where I found a concise list of what they thought we should know. Of course, none of the references listed were from the Bible. Every last one was from another Mormon document. The teaching that stood out to me most was also the one that bothered me the most. Without any shame, they proudly declared that they do not believe special revelation has ended. They claimed their interpretation of the Bible is unique in that they believe it should be interpreted through continuing revelation. While I knew this to be the case with the Mormon religion, seeing it printed right before my eyes was appalling! My mind instantly went to where the Bible says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 New American Standard Bible). If Scripture is enough to equip man for every good work, where is the need for ongoing special revelation?

As the announcements came to a close, the congregation began singing. I realized I had missed something. That was when I noticed they were all singing out of the hymnal. As oblivious as I felt in that moment, I grabbed a hymnal and flipped to the song number as quickly as I could. Expecting to find heresy upon heresy, I was surprised to find the song they were singing actually contained no error that I could find. Though I felt they were singing the song to a counterfeit God, I could, in my heart, sing the song to the authentic Jesus Christ and mean the lyrics. We sang of Christ being a firm foundation as well as of his atoning sacrifice.

Quite fittingly, the service then transitioned into communion or, as they called it, Administration of the Sacrament. Whereas the concept of communion is a very familiar one, their administration of it was quite different from anything I had witnessed before. Instead of it being served by adults who were in good standing within the church, it was being served by teenagers. Never before had I seen children serving communion. Something else that grieved my soul was seeing children of every age partaking in the meal. Scripture states, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). So long as a child has no relationship or unity with Christ, he should not be participating in communion. Yet, if these children had teeth, they were chewing on the bread. As communion came to a close, an older gentleman asked if the young men of the priesthood could be seated with their parents. I could go on about Christ abolishing the priesthood when he became our High Priest but, for the purpose of not dwelling on the subject, I’ll move on.

As the first speaker stepped up to the lectern, he informed us he would be speaking on the subject of faith. I was expecting to hear a passage to turn to but it never came. Instead, he began comparing faith to flying an airplane and trusting in the instruments. He compared it to driving a car and trusting in your skills as a driver. In this sense, it was nothing more than belief. He was also very adamant that one must act on his faith for it to be effective. While this may have sounded normal to the untrained ear, I heard heresy. The Mormon religion teaches that one can lose his salvation if there are no accompanying works. Therefore, for him to teach what he did made perfect sense. However, that doesn’t make it accurate. In reality, faith will make for effective works, not the other way around. Our faith makes our works effective yet our works have no bearing on whether or not our faith is effective. It only has a bearing on whether said faith is real or counterfeit.

After a brief interlude, the second speaker stepped up to the lectern. He didn’t exactly specify what he was going to be speaking on but, just as before, he also didn’t base it on any particular passage or verse. It soon became clear he was speaking on thankfulness and a grateful heart. While this is a wonderful topic to speak on, I felt as though he was taking a completely unbiblical approach to it. For instance, he declared that the Heavenly Father gave His children the gift of happiness. He even went so far as to claim that God will never demand from His children anything that will diminish the happiness He desires from them. I felt as though I were listening to a prosperity teaching televangelist. Yet, this man seemed very sincere in what he was saying. Ultimately, he linked it all to various passages within the Mormon writings. Since I reject Mormon writings as being the unbiblical teaching of another gospel, I naturally couldn’t stand behind his teaching. As he came to a close, he stated that all scriptures are the words of the apostles and prophets, both ancient and modern. Immediately, I was reminded of the blurb on the front of the bulletin that I had read upon first taking a seat in the pew. I found it ironic that the last thing I heard from the pulpit was also the very first thing I read upon arriving to the church. Sadly, neither of the speakers ever went to their Bible nor did they go to any of their other sacred writings. Instead of hearing preaching from the pulpit, it was more of a testimony sharing time.

The service closed in prayer and we all stood up to leave. I was approached by a man who saw me in the beginning. He was curious as to what I thought of the service. Out of kindness and respect, I chose to keep most of my thoughts to myself. After all, I was a guest in his church and they had treated me with nothing but kindness. He then began sharing with me why he felt the Mormon religion was true and how he had converted nine years prior. After he was finished, he appeared to be inquiring as to what my thoughts were. In the most loving way possible, I told him my main concern was that I believed the Jesus of the Book of Mormon to be a completely different person from the Jesus of the Bible. I explained that the Mormon Jesus was a created being who didn’t always exist whereas the Bible’s Jesus is eternal and is actually God Himself as the second person of the Holy Trinity. This, in and of itself, is enough to show how the two religions aren’t merely describing one person in different ways but are actually describing two different people in similar ways while still maintaining their individuality. With this foundational principle being in place, the only thing left to say was, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8). I explained that our differences will be offensive in nature but that my intention was not to offend maliciously. By this time, there were several people standing around and they were all in agreement that, while we disagreed, we could maintain kindness and love toward one another. One of the missionaries asked for my phone number in hopes that we can continue our discussion at a later point. I gladly gave my information and truly do hope to receive the call someday in the near future. I always look forward to the opportunity to evangelize to the lost. May God’s glory be lifted above all else. Soli Deo Gloria!

~ Travis W. Rogers