This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Christ Has Risen!!

I am dispensing with my usual article for the week here because it is Holy Week, and in anticipation of Paska (Easter) I want to give you all a gift instead. Here is the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, which is recited in every Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Church on Paska Sunday, and may it bless you:

If any man be devout and love God,
let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.

If any man be a wise servant,
let him enter rejoicing into the joy of his Lord.

If any have labored long in fasting,
let him now receive his recompense.

If any have wrought from the first hour,
let him today receive his just reward.

If any have come at the third hour,
let him with thankfulness keep the feast.

If any have arrived at the sixth hour,
let him have no misgivings, because he shall in no wise be deprived.

If any have delayed until the ninth hour,
let him draw near, fearing nothing.

If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour,
let him also be not alarmed at his tardiness;
for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor,
will accept the last even as the first;
he gives rest unto him who has worked from the first hour.

And He shows mercy upon the last,
and cares for the first;
and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts.
And he both accepts the deeds,
and welcomes the intention,
and honors the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord,
and receive your reward,
both the first and likewise the second.

You rich and poor together, hold high festival.

You sober and you heedless, honor the day.

Rejoice today, both you who have fasted, and you who have disregarded the fast.

The table is fully laden; feast sumptuously.

The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry.

Enjoy the feast of faith; receive all the riches of loving-kindness.

let no one bewail his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shone forth from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free: he that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into hell, he made hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, cried: "Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions."

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages, Amen!

(text courtesy of

Now, with that great sermon to bless you as you rejoice in your own salvation this week, be also blessed by the bells of Paska as they ring forth, proclaiming the risen Christ. Christos Voskrese, Voistinu Voskrese!!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Biblical Truth Behind Ancient Myths Part I - Mythical "Sons of Gods"

A show Barb and I like to watch - albeit now we see it only on Netflix! - is Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The show is based, albeit with some poetic license to the scripts, on the mythic exploits of the ancient Greek legendary figure Hercules (the scenery, ironically, was shot in New Zealand, and looks more like Ireland than it does ancient Greece, but still a good show nonetheless). Watching these shows recently got me to thinking that if ancient myths are based on some degree of fact, could there have been a historical person, a real figure, by the name of Hercules that actually existed?? Upon pondering this thought, I was reminded of a teaching that evangelist Perry Stone had some years ago about fallen angels, giants, and the origins of demonic spirits, and as I looked into it more, a couple of other questions came to mind - one of them, for instance, was that if Hercules did exist, was he possibly one of the Biblical Nephilim? As I continued to study this, the inspiration came to me to put together a study that dealt with this very thing, and so I did. What I found out was very revelational, and I am going to share some of it here with you now.

After a lot of study and meditating upon this issue, I have come to believe that Hercules was indeed a historic person who actually lived, and that he, along with Gilgamesh and others that were surrounded with legends of superhuman abilities actually existed. Unfortunately, unlike the character portrayed in the TV series by talented actor Kevin Sorbo, the real Hercules was very possibly something much more sinister than the romantic portrayals paint him in both popular culture and Greek mythology. Therefore, at this point I want us to look at a couple of Scriptures, Genesis 6:1-2, 4:

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the earth, and daughters were born to
them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful, and they took
wives to themselves of all whom they chose.

Moving on to verse 4,

There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came
in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who
were of old, men of renown. (NKJV)

Let us note some things about the above verses:

1. The "sons of God" procreated with the "daughters of men."
2. Giants roamed the earth (the Biblical Nephilim)
3. These hybrid children were noted as "men of renown"

Now, if you have either had the chance to read some of the mythic epics of such characters as Hercules or Gilgamesh, please note these Biblical texts as you recall the stories, and also take note of how these characters were portrayed in the myths and epics. If you can recall, here are some facts that these myths recall about such characters:

1. They had deities as fathers and human mothers
2. They were mighty men of stature possessing great strength
3. They were renown by reputation

That is eerie isn't it? Going further, let us take the Scripture verses, and go to the Fathers of the Church and see what they had to say about this. As I was researching this, many of the ancient Fathers saw these ancient mythological figures as real people, and accurately discerned that the deities these ancient peoples worshipped were in reality corrupt fallen angels and demonic beings. That alone tells me that when one reads this body of mythology, we are not talking about a piece of fictional literature or a bedtime story, but rather these stories were the "scripture," so to speak, of the ancient religious systems these people followed. Also in my own research, I found as well that the Church Fathers themselves varied on opinion regarding the subject matter of Genesis 6, as some thought the "sons of God" were the righteous seed of Adam's son Seth while the "daughters of men" were Cain's female descendants. However, a vast number of Patristical writings do identify these beings as literal giants and supermen who were the descendants of fallen angels and human women, and being this is part of the body of Church Tradition, I concur with the latter myself, as it makes so much sense in lieu of the ancient mythologies, which all talk of some superhuman protagonist who was sired by deities having flings with human women. Granted, this difference of opinion was amicably allowed because no essentials of the faith were involved, and therefore some leeway in interpretation was allowed. I do want to go on record now, so as to save receiving nasty letters, that the Biblical Nephilim are not the same thing as people today that have medically-diagnosed gigantism; therefore, Andre the Giant, Yao Ming, and Sandy Allen are not Nephilim! Gigantism is a medically diagnosed condition in which the pituitary gland produces more growth hormones than it should, and many people with gigantism are not supermen by any measure; as a matter of fact, many of them have serious health problems as a result. And, they are just normal people with a part of their body that functions differently from the way it should, and those people are to be treated with respect and compassion because they are fully human. Nephilim, as the Bible describes, were actually a different species altogether, and their creation was against God's mandate. And, being many of those Nephilim were killed off years ago, their only existence today is in the form of demons, which are their disembodied spirits because they were not extended the grace of God because their origin and creation was contrary to God's nature. However, some prophecy students have said that in the latter days, during the Tribulation specifically, a new group of Nephilim will be spawned by the Antichrist and will terrorize the earth. Their fate, like their predecessors before them, is cursedness and damnation. I may explore that further in a future study once I am able to research it more to see if it has any validity.

Looking at what the ancient Church Fathers said, we first examine St. Augustine, who more or less wrote that the Nephilim as a species were not uniform, but rather diverse; some were giant in stature, while others were endowed with superhuman strength and/or amazing intellectual abilities (ie: Nimrod of the Bible). An interesting dimension the this is that Saint Augustine saw these Nephilim as being allowed to exist for a season for a purpose, namely to show the vanity of human ability at the expense of the redemption of the soul (Andrew Louthe, ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament Vol. I - Genesis 1-11. {Carol Stream, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001} pp. 125-126). Saint Ambrose likewise believed the Nephilim were literal giants, sired by fallen angels having illicit relations with human women, and that their very physical abilities generated an unholy arrogance - identical to that which got Satan cast out of the heavens - and this arrogance caused them to take little regard for their souls because they were cursed with no redemption anyway (ibid.). The ideas expressed on the subject by both SS. Augustine and Ambrose echo a similar theme by the Biblical writer of Ecclesiastes, who of course emphasized the vanity and futility of all earthly attempts to better oneself. The idea expressed by the Church Fathers and indeed Holy Scripture itself is a cardinal Christian doctrine, that the soul is eternal and thus should be given more care and attention, as Jesus Himself died to save it from damnation. In other words, God looks at the content of a vessel rather than the vessel itself. Many ancient writers and philosophers from perspectives other than that taught by Judeo-Christian doctrine placed great importance on the physical rather than the spiritual, and that is why you have all the Herculean mythology, the anatomically-perfect statuary, and other things from ancient Greece in particular. However, the Judeo-Christian idea is radically opposite, for even in stories of men with superhuman strength in the Bible such as Sampson (Sampson, by the way, was not a Nephilim but rather was given his strength by God himself) the idea is dependence on God rather than revelling in one's physical prowess, as the latter could be said to be a form of idolatry.

Many of the Church Fathers, as well as ancient rabbinical sources within Jewish tradition, also had a great familiarity with some ancient Christian and Jewish writings that, although not universally accepted as Scripture, still provided useful commentary to explain and expound upon Scriptural books and in essence "fill in the gaps" that were often left open by the Scriptural record (there is no mistake with the "gaps" though, as we must remember that primarily the Bible is a chronicle of God's plan of redemption for humanity, and the canon of Scripture was set based on that, but other books of the time do provide valuable insight and are complimentary rather than contradictory to the Scriptural record, and are therefore acceptable sources to use). Such documents as The Book of Enoch and The Book of Jubilees, among others, devote a lot of copy to the subject of the fallen angels, Nephilim, and origins of certain ancient religions and their "gods," which many of these extant writings describe as actually being fallen angels and demonic powers. Jubilees in particular devotes passages of its content to the fact that these fallen angels originally came with the noble intention of teaching men, but eventually became corrupted, and in my own estimation this is where the origins of many pagan deities came from. Zeus, the principal deity of the ancient Greeks, comes to mind here. Part of that corruption of course resulted in sexual temptations between these fallen angels and human women, thus resulting in a race of mutants who, by their size, intelligence, and/or physical prowess, became the Nephilim.
In Chapter V of The Book of Jubilees, for instance, of which I have the copy of an 1888 translation by Rev. George H. Schouldes which is still available for purchase from Artisan Books in Muskogee, OK, the Nephilim are portrayed as a race of bloodthirsty, cannibalistic giants (perhaps this is where the horrible practice of human sacrifice in some cultures came from?). And, the popularly accepted view is that the disembodied spirits of these Nephilim became demons, due largely to the cursed condition of their forbidden origins. Although I have personally come to believe and accept that these Nephilim were indeed giants, I also have, upon further study, come to believe they are widely diverse, and not all were giants. That would, of course, explain certain legendary figures such as Nimrod of the Bible, Gilgamesh (many believe these were also one and the same, just as a side note), and Hercules. Joseph P. Lumpkin, in his book Fallen Angels, the Watchers and The Origin of Evil (Alabama: Fifth Estate, 2006) notes this on page 34-37 as well.

All this being said, it is time I give you a summary of my own belief about all this. Although it is just my personal belief and not universally-accepted dogma, I am nonetheless convinced that the following is a plausible explanation about the existence in mythology of superhuman hero figures such as Hercules, and thus you can take it for whatever you wish. Therefore, here is my personal conviction.

When Satan led a rebellion in heaven, he took down a lot of angelic "partners in crime" with him, and many of them ended up on the antediluvian earth. I believe that humans could interact with these angelic beings at that time, but due to the fallen and corrupted nature of many of these angelic beings, many of them took advantage of the human weakness for hero-worship and set themselves up as "gods" to be worshipped, in effect asserting an authority over humanity they were not supposed to have. Therefore, it is my opinion that the myriads of pantheons of "gods" that many ancient civilizations had were in reality hierarchies of fallen angels and their enslaved disembodied demon children. There is only one God, and He is the Creator of the universe, but Satan and his kind have sought to usurp, always unsuccessfully, God's authority. That being said, in the Herculean legend, Zeus then was probably a fallen angel of high rank who served as an evil principality over the area of the ancient Aegean, and thus like so many other fallen angels he fell into the trap of being attracted to the daughters of men, and thus mated with Alchemene, the mother of Hercules, to produce his own "seed of renown men." This then would make Hercules not just a subject of myth, but rather an actual historical figure who was of the Nephilim. This same story has an identical Mesopotamian counterpart in the Gilgamesh epic, and other civilizations have had similar stories (Krishna in India, Quetzalcoatl in Mesoamerica, etc.). Pagan civilizations, devoid of the true God, looked to these men as heroes and legends, but in reality they were evil by nature - the real Hercules then would not have been a very nice person, to put it in plain language! Such beings did possess great knowledge, superhuman strength and other endowments they received from their fallen angelic fathers, but they also inherited a nature characterized by a wicked self-centeredness and masochistic attitude toward normal humans. Then, when they as mortal beings eventually died, their cursed spirits became the demons. This is going to radically rock the thinking of many on the subject, but seriously think about this for a moment - myth is often constructed around some grain of fact, and in this case the facts sell the case. It is up to us, if the interest so draws us to do so, to peel away the layers of romanticism and mythology around the fact and discover it for ourselves, as often truth is stranger than fiction. The Bible is God's infallible truth, and I therefore personally believe it holds the key to the truth about so many things and their true origins. I realize that some people who may not be Christians may read this and probably think it is the craziest thing you have ever heard, and when relying upon human reasoning, a lot of the unexplained sounds bizarre. However, God says in His Word that he uses the foolish things to confound the wise, and therefore that should give the skeptic food for thought.

In addition to the Nephilim and their existence, it must be noted also that these fallen angels were believed by many ancient writers to have granted mysterious knowledge to the people who worshipped them as deities, albeit at a high price and also mixed with cruel deceptions. Some things that the achaelogist marvels at in regard to ancient civilizations - the Mayan calendar, which is generating all the 2012 hoopla recently, as well as the Egyptian pyramids and the Easter Island monolyths, come to mind - are actually no great mystery when you see them with eyes of discernment. The Mayan calendar, for instance, was actually remarkably accurate with dates, etc., for a people as limited scientifically as the Maya were. Mark Hitchcock, in his book 2012: The Bible and The End of the World (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2009) talks about this in detail on pages 41-42. Recently, I had the privelege of hearing Dr. Hitchcock speak at a prophecy conference we attended in St. Petersburg, FL, and one thing he said (which is also in the book as well) was that it is perfectly sensible to conclude that the same spirits that inspired the Mayan religion in particular (a gruesome system, by the way, which centered around the practice of human sacrifice which included but was not limited to ripping the live, beating heart out of a victim and cannibalizing it, a practice they also shared with other Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Olmecs, Toltecs, and Aztecs) would have been perfectly capable of disseminating advanced knowledge of the cosmos to their worshippers. And, being many of these "gods" were either demons or fallen angels, it stands to reason that this is where some of the remarkable things they are noted for in their civilizations came from. An anonymous ancient text that Lumpkin quotes in his book alludes to this as well when it states that these fallen angels taught men charms and spirits as well as metallurgy, astrology, and other arts (Lumpkin, 57).

In conclusion, I urge here that when we study or read works of antiquity, in particular mythologies of various civilizations, let's be careful not to dismiss everything we read as a mere fairy tale or fantasy. Behind every religious system save the Judeo-Christian tradition and possibly atheism, there is a demonic or angelic (meaning fallen angels) presence, and the mythology of these religious systems also serve as their sacred texts in a lot of cases. Although corrupted to some extent by demonic deception and also the grammatical limitations of the people of the time, after peeling away all the layers of embellishment and mythology, there is some factual origin to that certain religious system. The truth also can be either simpler than the myth, or more shocking, or both. In coming weeks, we will be exploring other aspects of mythology and legend, and as we do so, prepare to have your eyes opened to some things you may not have thought possible. God bless you all until next time.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Setting the Record Straight about Traditions of Men - Colossians 2:8

"Tradition" - never has a word been more maligned, misunderstood, and villainized in contemporary religious circles as is this one. Often, those of us who are liturgical Christians - as well as a number of old-fashioned Protestants, such as independent Baptists, Old-Order Mennonites, conservative Wesleyan-Holiness, and old-time Pentecostals - are targeted by so-called "progressive" Evangelicals and we are accused of following "traditions of men." Problem is, many of the people making such accusations fail to understand that they are taking this whole subject totally out of context. So, although this is not meant to be a dissertation, hopefully it will aid in clearing up the misunderstandings that are often widely broadcast against more traditionally-minded Christians, and maybe it will even help some who read this to re-evaluate their own misunderstandings about this, as in essence what has happened is the iconoclastic anti-traditionalism that is rampant in some professing Christian circles is more a "tradition of men" than some of the things they attack.

The issue centers around one particular verse, and it is Colossians 2:8. Like so many things that seem to be built on one verse, this has a lot of misunderstanding and bad exegesis based on either prejudice on the part of the interpreters or maybe due to some bad experience the person spouting the anti-tradition rant had in a more traditional church. Here is the text of that verse from the New King James:

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

Note that I purposely bolded one part of this verse, and here's why - the verse is not talking about long-held practices of either the Christian Church, nor of the Hebraic tradition it evolved out of at the time the Apostle Saint Paul wrote this letter, but rather to worldly philosophies and things of that nature creeping into Christian belief. Consider what the Church Fathers, from whom most of the Holy Tradition of the Christian Church was codified, said. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catechetical Lectures 4.2, says this: "True religion consists of two elements: pious doctrine and virtuous actions. Neither does God accept doctrines apart from works, nor are works, when divorced from godly doctrine, accepted by God..." (Peter Gorday, ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture - New Testament Volume IX {Carol Stream, IL: Intervarsity, 2000} pp. 28-29). In other words, many who are railing against tradition - a popular "Purpose-Driven" author from California comes to mind even as I speak, as well as his "possibility thinking" mentor in nearby Garden Grove, CA - are actually in violation of the verse they use! Oh, but it gets better - Ambrosiastus, in his Commentary on the Letter to Colossians, says this: "He calls that philosophy worldly by which men who desire to be wise in earthly terms are seduced." (ibid) Hmmmm....and to think, all these people who say that the Church should be more "relevant to modern times" and "seeker-friendly," are also in violation of a Scriptural principle then as well!! Getting the first word from the Church Fathers on this - and that was only a couple, as time does not permit to really get into what they said! - it becomes apparent that those people today who use the "traditions of men" charge against those they don't like for singing old hymns, celebrating liturgically, or using an organ in church, are in reality condemning themselves! Reason is, the verse is talking about using the wisdom of the world to attempt to preach the word of God!!! And, on that, a lot of today's Christianity falls tragically short, as the world's ways are becoming too accepted in the church - a church in California pastored by a well-known writer on the "Christian market," as an example, uses music from an antichrist group like the Beatles as worship music! Even the Christian college I graduated from, which in its day was noted for having powerful moves of God on campus, has replaced campus revivals with these ridiculous - and boring! - seminars on church growth, and sessions like "How to Make Your Church More Business Savvy" by using as inspiration the writings of greedy, humanistic corporate moguls rather than following the Holy Spirit in getting pastors of churches the renewal of their spirits they so desperately need. Business seminars and rock music are the ways of the world; they are the new "tradition of men' the world goes by and have no business in the Church! And, it is these very things that the Apostle Paul was instructing the Colossian Church to avoid in the letter. Thing is, they probably had enough sense to listen, whereas our generation is led by other things rather than our desire to be more Christlike.

I have nothing against, by the way, churches practicing good business and integrity. There are legal guidelines and things churches must follow, and also our churches need to be quality stewards of the money and other assets that support their work. However, when those things become the driving force of a church's existence, then it causes problems. Therefore, good instruction in proper finances for churches, as well as maintaining proper non-profit standards, etc., have their place, but not at the expense of the Church's spiritual purpose. I wanted to just say that up-front before I move on.

The balking of certain things by modern Churchianity in order to make itself more palatable to sinners has also had some dire consequences. Since a lot of this nonsense is targeted at the youth culture, the first evaluation that must be noted is what success such measures have had. To answer that, I refer you to Evangelical counselor Josh McDowell's 2006 book entitled The Last Christian Generation (Holiday, FL: Green Key Books, 2006) and these shocking statistics he noted on page 15:

*63% (of church-going youth) don't believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God
*58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths
* 51% don't believe Jesus (physically) rose from the dead
* 65% don't believe Satan is a real entity
* 68% don't believe the Holy Spirit is a real entity

Note those things - these are fundamental doctrines that professing Christian kids are saying they don't believe in! I might also add that an increasing number of kids from supposedly Evangelical/Pentecostal/conservative churches have more or less said they would support same-sex marriages, have had premarital sex, have experimented with alcohol and drugs, consult horoscopes and other occultic practices (a surprising number of "good church kids" have made J.K. Rowling, the author of the popular occultic fantasy series Harry Potter, a very rich woman too!), and have no problem with abortion and birth control. McDowell later, on page 18, quotes a study done by Christian researcher/statician George Barna by noting that 98% of professed "born again Christian" young people, while saying they "believe in Christ," nonetheless do not reflect Christlike attitudes or actions. Ironically many of these self-professed "born again" kids were discipled in churches where the pastors were often discipled themselves by the likes of Bill Hybels, James Rutz, Rick Warren, and others who say they are "called" to make the church more "seeker-friendly," and as part of that the mantra of "tradition" being contemptously treated as a cussword is all these kids have heard, so as a result they have gotten a watered-down Gospel that hardly resembles what the Church has faithfully taught for 2000 years. Many of these same kids also question God's creation, and many of them believe they come from monkeys or ocean sludge rather than being created in the image of a loving God. All of these are "traditions of men" the Apostle Paul instructed against - the Church is, and always will be, counter-cultural; just because some things are accepted by the world, even for generations, does not make them right in God's eyes. For instance, getting back to our friend Rick Warren. This man, while professing to be a Baptist pastor, has caused more division in the Body of Christ because he has taken young, impressionable pastors under his poisoned wing and has taught them that the "pillars of the church" are no longer important, but rather the "new way" of "driving our purpose," and a lot of that thinking is based not on the Bible nor the Holy Tradition of the Church, but rather on the worldly traditions of man-centered philosophy. Case in point is this - James Sundquist, in his excellent critique of Warren's philosophy entitled Who's Driving the Purpose-Driven Church? (Oklahoma City, OK: Bible Belt Publishing, 2004), notes on page 53 a key component of this "Purpose-Driven" teaching - he quotes from Rick Warren's own Purpose Driven Life from page 42 which says this: "It's the view of life that you hold, consciously or subconsciously, in your mind." The problem with Warren's reasoning is that it is based on Freud and Jungian psychobabble (there you go - "traditions of men"!) rather than on Scriptural principle, wherein lies the problem. By separating the bulwarks and foundations of Christian belief from today's churches, Warren and his kind are easily replacing them with other "traditions," none of which are new, that are undermining the very foundations of our young people's faith. Let me give an example of this I noted recently too. Barb and I like watching this program on ABC Family Channel on Mondays called The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and although it is an entertaining show, it has one character that really disturbs me. Grace is an attractive 16-year-old girl who is quite open about her Christianity, yet for some reason she finds no problem with having sex with her male classmates "as long as it is a loving relationship," which in her reasoning somehow pleases God. As a matter of fact, if you watch some of the recent episodes, the girl is a downright nymphomaniac! The reason the show is so good though is that it pretty much portrays what the typical "born again" kid is thinking nowadays - there are a lot of Graces running around out there. Yet, instead of preaching against this behavior, most pastors take their cues from Rick Warren, who says it's all part of the culture and must be accepted. The scary thing about that is that Rick Warren is only a couple of steps removed from one Moses Berg, who in the late 1960's led a Pentecostal-like cult called the Children of God that advocated a practice called "flirty fishing," which in essence means using prostitution for "evangelistic purposes." I wonder if that is what Rick Warren's next book will be in the future - "The Purpose-Driven Prostitute." I mean, in his reasoning Mary Magdalene was one (he forgot that she repented though!) so why would it not be Scriptural?? Or what about having "Christian Hash Brownie Bakeoffs," in which marijuana is baked into baked goods to "Bake Kids for Jesus!" I mean, after all, did not God create marijuana too, so why not?? Those were ridiculous examples, but that is exactly the train of thought these so-called "traditions of men" among the "seeker-friendly" ministers have, and mark my word, it is only a matter of time until many supposedly professing conservative Evangelical churches will be following in the footsteps of the now-liberal mainline churches they originally came out of by accepting such things as same-sex marriages, etc. - what I am saying is that one day some Nazarene churches will not be much different than their liberal United Methodist forebears from whence they came (not picking on the Nazarenes, but that is just an example). That is why the Church must re-discover its roots, and instead of chucking the rich traditions of the Christian past, they should be learning more about them, for that is where their revival will come. And, in the process, the Church of today, both Catholic and Protestant, could do with a real housecleaning - chuck out these worldly "traditions of men" instead and return to their roots. Revival will come to the Church in these latter days, as God did promise it, but it will come to a people who revere and love his Truth, and not to those who seek the ear-tickling "traditions of men" gleaned by supposed pastors from ungoldy sources just to sell a few million books to make their bank accounts richer.

So, thus is my teaching for this week, and again, it will probably tick off some people, as some hearts are becoming harder by the day, yet at the same time there is a generation of people out there who are hungry - I hear every day of more and more people under the age of 50 who are drawn to the historic liturgy and worship of the Christian Church, and they are falling in love with old hymnody, the teachings and spiritual writings of the Church Fathers, and many of them are choosing more conservative lifestyles. And, they belong in a variety of Christian traditions too - Baptist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, etc. But they need a lot of prayer too, as houses of worship that teach the old truths are harder and harder to find, and many are hungry but cannot have that hunger satisfied. Therefore, these posts are for you as well, and may they edify and give you the encouragement that you are not alone. God bless each and every one of you who read this, and will see you next time.

Monday, March 8, 2010

New Wine in Old Wineskins - Setting the Record Straight.

Nor do they put old wine into new wineskins, or else the wineskins break, and the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. (Matthew 9:17, NKJV)

The above verse is an oft-quoted one in today's society, especially in lieu of people like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and the entire "contemporary Christian music" industry deciding that the Gospel, as it is written, must be made "relevent" to today's society. The above groups of people in the Christian community often use this verse to attack something that they know little about, but it poses a threat to them, and it consists of one word - tradition. However, it is my belief that these people are missing something, and I feel that what they preach against the "traditional church" about doing is something they are more guilty of themselves, which is the purpose of this study.

There have been many people, most of whom are so theologically ignorant they wouldn't know King James from Old King Cole, who have attacked those of us who see the error of much of this "purpose-driven" and "seeker-sensitive" nonsense because they think we have a hangup about one issue - music! They turn venerable old hymns with great theological truths into jokes, they bristol at even the thought that an organ or an hymnal would be used in a church, and their derisive remarks about "smells and bells" in regard to liturgical churches are often so offensive that it makes a drunken sailor blush, and yet they profess to serve Jesus Christ. Problem is, they fail to listen because 1. they don't want to be confused with the facts, and 2. they only hear what they want to hear, which often falls short of the full story. Those of us, for instance, who prefer more traditional worship in church are actually diverse in our own tastes musically - some like rock, some like classical, and some like jazz, simple as that. I myself am an afficianado of big bands. That being said, these immature Warrenistas need to understand that musical style is not what our argument is about - rather, it is the fact that too much of today's "worship" appeals only to the flesh and doesn't edify the spirit, and that is the fruit of a bigger problem with a deeper root. To drive my point home, my own library of Christian music is very diverse - in it, I have everything from Syriac Orthodox chant to Maranatha praise albums, and truly godly music of the Church knows no time restrictions - for instance, I am actually very blessed by modern Christian psalmists such as Paul Wilbur, Kirk and Debi Dearman, and Graham Kendrick, because all these people have produced godly, anointed music that not only stays faithful to the tradition of the Church, but it touches the spirit. And, these people I just mentioned are not pipe organists and composers of cantatas either - all of them are contemporary in sound and are sought-after musicians and composers whose works have been sung in churches around the world over the past 20 years. That being said, I reiterate that our reservations as traditionalists have nothing whatsoever to do with style, and personally many of us could care less about that. What we are addressing, I say again, is the fruit of a much bigger problem in recent years, and that is what we want to deal with here.

When Jesus spoke those words in Matthew 9:17 about the new wine and old wineskins, I don't believe he was talking about anything to do about "contemporary vs. traditional church." Rather, He was talking about the new life in Christ - the "old wineskin" represents our former sinful nature, and the "new wine" represents the spirit of Christ that renews and rebirths us. The "wineskin" of the Church has always been a new one, kept in shape over the years by a rubdown of the oil of the Holy Spirit, and thus it is the skin we should seek to be. The old wineskin of the world though is one of brokenness, decay, and is no good anymore for the follower of Christ, and thus if you pour wine into it, the thing is going to blow up. In some Middle Eastern cultures of antiquity, the wineskin Jesus talked about was literally the bladder of a sheep that was cured and treated to make it a suitable vessel for the transport of liquids such as water and wine which, in a largely arid desert culture, were precious commodities. If a goat-bladder vessel was not maintained and oiled regularly in that hostile climate, it could dry up, crack, and would be of little use, and hence precious liquids that sustained life could be wasted. The vessel lesson is the key - the old, cracked, dried-up vessel of the world cannot house the precious living water, or even the "new wine", of Christ, because it is no longer of any use - it is dead, dried up, and anyone using it risks a great loss of a precious commodity. In contrast, a well-treated new wineskin, oiled down, cured, and conditioned by the Holy Spirit, not only retains the liquid but expands without problem to accomodate it. That leads me to my assessment of today's church. Have you ever noticed those commercials for male-enhancement products you see on some cable stations at any given time of the day? They have the message always that "bigger is better," or that "size matters," although after expending all that air time on those pitch lines they fail to mention the side effects - you can have a heart attack and die, or a stroke, if they are used in some instances. The modern church's pitch line is a lot like a male-enhancement product commercial - size is all that seems to matter. However, like those bogus "growth" drugs on the informercials, some of these "pastors" fail to see the side effects of their "drug"; churches become so entertainment-oriented that they die spiritually. As a result, today it seems like those who embrace this stuff are growing loose in their standards - now premarital sex, "no-fault" divorce, partying, and rebellion are all touted by Rick Warren and others as a "revival." And, there are now so called "Christian rock" bands - groups so enraged about mentioning sin, hell, and the blood of Jesus because it might "offend" people - singing the praises of non-Christian behavior. This is the "new wine" of the Gospel being poured into an old bladder vessel of the world, which is so rotten and corroded that the wine drains right out. So, in essence, the true "old wineskins" are those people, churches, and writers that talk so much about being "purpose-driven' and "seeker-friendly" because the bottom line for them is simply this - the more palatable it is, the more it sells. Think about it - why are false prophets like Rick Warren and Joel "I love me" Osteen selling millions of copies of their books?? Simple - they don't offend people because they downplay the full Gospel in favor of a fake, feel-good pep talk that they codify into 300 or so pages so they can afford the new jacuzzi in their million-dollar palatial homes. And, they are an offense to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ - people are dying and going to hell because Rick Warren and Joel Osteen sell another thousand copies of that drivel they are hawking like cheap carnies selling funnel cakes at the county fair. Some of it is even outright dangerous - New Age doctrines and occultism are creeping into these big-sellers at an alarming rate, and "christian rock" music is no better. Dan Lucarini and John Blanchard, in their book Can We Rock the Gospel? (London: Evangelical Press, 2006) note this very thing when they discuss at length the influence some ungodly secular rock musicians, many notorious for promoting satanism and pornographic behavior, have on supposedly "Christian" bands:

Sadly, as demonstrated earlier with regard to the Beatles, some of the secular musicians listed in this chapter are claimed as key musical influences by Christian musicians and worship leaders...Additionally, the Christian music industry does not help matters when it compares Christian rock bands to some of these same secular bands - and almost always in a most favorable way. (Lucarini and Blanchard, 100-101)

Read that quote carefully, and you will see it - "New wine" in "old wineskins"! I am probably going to tick off some people for saying that, because the argument they have is always this: "Well, music is just music!"
They forget though that we experience God with all of our senses, and that includes the love of music God gave us also, which is why music has been an integral part of the Church for centuries. Satan also has the power to corrupt, and in the Christian realm today, he has sown many tares in the wheatfield, and the fertilizer for those tares is the bad influence and theology of ungodly entertainment, which in turn has brought an entertainment spirit into the House of the Lord, and He is not pleased!! As a matter of fact, it breaks His heart, because it is as if these very people are using the Gospel - in a corrupted form mind you - to turn people away from the Cross, the very thing that saves us. Therefore, we need to begin to truly be "seeker-sensitive" - we as Christian pilgrims need to seek God on our knees, with a spirit of brokenness and contrite hearts, in order for us to be renewed as a Church. However, this bad theology lining the shelves of "Christian" book stores, as well as the grating noise of so-called "Christian rock" music, has bred within many people professing to be Christians a selfish, self-indulgent spirit that does not glorify God - the "new wine" has leaked out of their "old wineskin," in other words. Jeff Godwin, in his book What's Wrong With Christian Rock? (Chino, CA: Chick Publications, 1990) sums it up well when he writes:

Here's the heart of the problem (regarding the supposed "relativity" of C-Rock music) - the "relating" hoax is really about friendship WITH sin, not coming out from among them and being separate. Instead of "touch NOT the unclean thing," C-Rock says: "Touch it all you want to! We'll use it as a bridge to get to something better! Who cares if God forbids it? What does He know, anyway?" (Godwin, 235)

And, there is the bottom line that Godwin captured so well - people professing to be "Christians" today all of a sudden think they know better than God does about how to reach people!! Never mind the Church as it existed for 2000 years - that encompasses ALL Christian traditions too, BTW! - has been effective and done a fine job - not always perfect, but at the same time it has produced a wealth of beautiful tradition that is rich in doctrine and both edifies the saint and convicts the sinner. Now, conviction and edification are no longer good enough - we have to entertain and tickle ears as well. Scripture has much to say about that also, as there are many verses that speak prophetically about the latter days and a great falling away, and I believe one verse even warns about men loving pleasure more than God and His word. Again, the "old wineskins" delude themselves into thinking they can carry the "new wine," even to the point of arrogantly thinking they are new wineskins. However, God has a warning for such people - professing to be wise, they became fools. And so it begins - Laodicea's descent into absorption by the future "mystery Babylon," the whorish religious system that one day will arise on the earth, deceiving many into following the coming Antichrist. Unfortunately, unless they truly repent and come to know the real Jesus, they will regret every bit of it one day. Some of these people may sell millions of books, but big book sales don't save people; only the shed Blood of Christ, and His broken Body for our sins, does.

I hope this will be a blessing to many of you, as I know many non-Christians have even shaken their heads incredulously at some of the circus acts that pose as "worship services" in big megachurches and on "religious television." TBN is resembling more of MTV these days - surprisingly, MTV has gotten better programming actually, as it is now tackling important issues like teen pregnancy while the folks at TBN continue to tickle the ears of their viewers with empty promises of "blabbing and grabbing it," and all this while a world perishes and dies without Christ, damned for the pits of hell. God help us as a Christian people, and as a nation, for we may rue the day we hung onto the "old wineskins," with their leaky cracks and decaying walls, as the "new wine" of the Gospel slowly trickles away while the church folk play. Lord have mercy upon us.

God bless you all, and will be back next week.