Archive for October, 2011
There are some things we do not want to last forever. I was reminded of this as I was reading Psalm 74 in my devotions this past week: “O God, why do You cast us off forever” (Psalm 74:1)? The Psalmist is here lamenting God’s anger which has resulted in the dislocation of God’s people from their homeland by the Babylonians. The Israelites, the Psalmist says, have been “cast off” by God. And he’s worried that there may be no redemption. He’s worried that they may be cast off forever.
There are some things that we do not want to last forever. We do not want our workdays to last forever. That’s why there are so many songs about the glories of five o’ clock. We do not even want our vacations to last forever. That’s why there are so many songs about the yearning to be home. The Psalmist does not want his people’s exile to last forever. That’s why he writes a song pleading with God to restore them by His good grace. There are some things – and maybe even most things – that we do not want to last forever. But there are some things that we do.
In 1 Peter 1, the apostle writes about the kind of eternity that every Christian should desire – the kind of thing that every Christian should want to last forever:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:3-6)
Peter says that in this world, like the Psalmist, we may have to suffer “all kinds of trials.” We may feel like we have been cast off by God “forever.” But not to worry, Peter says, for these trials will only last “a little while.” In fact, the Hebrew word for “forever” in Psalm 74:1 is nesach, which has a sense of “continually,” or “perpetually.” God may have cast His people off again and again in judgment for the sin they have committed again and again, but that doesn’t mean that they must be cast off forever. They can repent and God will restore them. This is why the Psalmist continues, “Remember Your congregation, which you have purchased of old, which You have redeemed to the be tribe of Your heritage” (Psalm 74:2). God will take His people back. Their exile will not last forever.
There are some things that we do not want to last forever. But there are some things that we do. Peter says we have an inheritance that does indeed last forever. It ‘s an inheritance that can “never perish, spoil, or fade.” Why? Because the One who holds our inheritance never perishes, spoils, or fades. And He promises us that, by faith in Him, we too will never perish, spoil, or fade. We will live with Him forever. This is our inheritance. And this is a forever inheritance that we should want.
There are some things that we do not want to last forever. Life with Christ, however, is not one of these things. For we were created by God to live forever. But sin interrupted God’s forever plan. Yet Christ, by His death and resurrection, put God’s forever plan back together. And His forever plan is a forever that never gets old.
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When I was a little kid, one of the places my dad used to take me was the zoo. I loved to see the animals – the bears, the giraffes, the elephants, and the otters. I especially liked the otters. They always seemed so playful and energetic. But as much as I enjoyed seeing the animals, they were never my favorite part of my zoo trips. No, the highlight of these trips was always my ride on the zoo train. At my local zoo, they had a real, coal burning, steam engine which ran a mile long trek around the perimeter of the zoo grounds. And I loved to ride it. The wail of the train whistle, the chug, chug, chug of the pistons, and the waft of the smoke rising from the train’s stack always mesmerized me. I also loved the open-air cars. There was nothing like having the wind blow in your face as lots of beautiful scenery whizzed by beside you. In fact, I always wanted to hang my head out the side of the car and feel the wind rush through my hair. But in each car, they had these notices posted: “Please remain seated and keep your hands and arms inside the car until the ride has come to a complete stop.” I despised these notices. And my dad would never allow me to fudge the rules…not one bit. Whenever I’d try to stick my hand out the side of the car to feel the breeze, my dad would grab it and point it up to the notice. I could look at the scenery whizzing by outside, but I could not stick my hand out the window to get closer to it. I had to keep my hands to myself.
In worship and ABC this weekend, we looked at the story of a sinful woman who comes to anoint Jesus as He is dining with a Pharisee named Simon. As I mentioned in ABC, many scholars believe this woman not only lived a sinful life, but a scandalous one as a prostitute. When Simon sees this woman weeping over Jesus and pouring perfume on Him, Simon mutters to himself, “If this man were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). Simon is upset that this sinful woman would dare to touch Jesus…and that Jesus would allow her to do so! In fact, from this, Simon deduces that Jesus cannot be a true prophet – for a true prophet would never let a sinful woman come into contact with Him. Simon believes this woman should keep her hands and arms inside her own little space at all times. She should keep her hands to herself.
According to Old Testament law, coming into contact with something or someone which was physically, spiritually, or ceremonially unclean rendered you unclean. For instance, Moses writes:
If a person touches anything ceremonially unclean – whether the carcasses of unclean wild animals or of unclean livestock or of unclean creatures that move along the ground – even though he is unaware of it, he has become unclean and is guilty. Or if he touches human uncleanness – anything that would make him unclean – even though he is unaware of it, when he learns of it he will be guilty. (Leviticus 5:2-3)
Moses is warning, “Be careful what you touch! Because if you touch the wrong thing, you will get the wrong result – you will be rendered ‘unclean’!” So please keep your hands and arms inside your own little space at all times. Keep your hands to yourself.
A touch can defile. This was the way the religious leaders viewed sinfulness and righteousness, uncleanness and purity. This is why Simon is so upset with Jesus. After all, He is allowing a clearly unclean prostitute to defile His ceremonial cleanness without so much as a wince! Jesus, however, knows better about purity and uncleanness:
Nothing outside a man can make him “unclean” by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him “unclean.” For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean.” (Mark 7:15, 21-23)
Jesus knows that a sinful woman cannot defile a pure person, for a person becomes sinful not because of some external source of wickedness, but because of his own sinful heart! The Lutheran Confessions explain, “Neither sin nor righteousness should be placed in meat, drink, clothing and like things” (Apology XXVIII 7). These external things cannot defile us. It is our own hearts which make us wicked.
This sinful woman’s touch does not defile Jesus’ purity. But Jesus’ purity does cleanse this sinful woman. Jesus announces to her, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). This woman’s sinfulness is no match for Jesus’ forgiveness. And the same is true for us. We are cleansed through faith in Christ!
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With the election cycle kicking into full gear, politicians, pastors, and pundits are beginning to offer endorsements with regard to who they would like to see elected President of the United States. At the Values Voter Summit, in an endorsement for Rick Perry, a Republican candidate for president, Robert Jeffress, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, asked, “Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or do we want a candidate who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?” Following his remarks, Pastor Jeffress was asked to clarify his comments and explain specifically what he thought of Rick Perry over and against another frontrunner candidate, Mitt Romney, to whom he seemed to allude when he spoke of a “good, moral person.” The pastor replied, “Rick Perry’s a Christian. He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Mitt Romney’s a good, moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.” These remarks sparked a firestorm, with many voters and reporters alike indignant that the pastor would designate Mormonism as a “cult.”
Because of the attention and ire that Pastor Jeffress’ comments have drawn, we have received many questions concerning the Mormon Church and its relationship to mainstream Christianity. In light of these questions, we thought it would be appropriate to briefly address the teachings of Mormonism theologically, the status of Mormonism religiously, and the duty Christians have as voting citizens vocationally. Here is a broad overview of what is to follow.
First, we will discuss how Mormonism cannot be considered a part of historic, orthodox Christianity. Its teachings concerning the Trinity, the nature of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are far removed from biblical and historical Christian teaching. Mormonism does not confess the Trinity nor does it believe that a person is saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone. Rather, Mormons believe they are saved by grace and their works.
Next, we will tackle the question du jour, “Is Mormonism a cult?” Theologically, we can say that Mormonism is a cult, for it claims new, advanced, divine revelation in addition to the Bible. Psychologically and sociologically, the validity of calling Mormonism a cult becomes less clear. A cult, as the word is used in its secular sense, denotes a body which is explicitly psychologically and sociologically subversive. Mormonism does not necessarily bear this hallmark of a cult. Thus, when we call Mormonism a “cult,” it is important that we define the term.
Finally, we will ask the question, “May Christians vote for a candidate who is not a Christian?” In this section, we will discuss how because those in political offices rule in the kingdom of the world and not in the Kingdom of God, they can be competent to rule even if they are not Christian. Christians are free to pick the most competent candidate, even if he is not a Christian candidate, for political office.
With this overview, we now move to discuss each of the above points in more depth.
The Teachings of Mormonism
First, we turn to the teachings of Mormonism from a theological perspective. As stated previously, theologically, we must understand that Mormonism cannot be considered a part of historic, orthodox Christianity. Indeed, Mormonism explicitly rejects claims that it is part of the Christian tradition. Mormonism teaches that before May 15, 1829, there was no true Church on earth. It was on this day that John the Baptist allegedly visited Joseph Smith and conferred upon him and his friend, Oliver Cowdery, the Aaronic priesthood. Before this prophetic encounter with John the Baptist, Mormons claim, “There was no one living in mortality who held the keys to this Priesthood.” In other words, before this time, Mormons teach that no one had the priestly pedigree to be a part of true Christianity. It had been completely lost from the days of the apostles. Thus, according to their own statements, Mormons claim to be the restoration and repristination of Christianity and not a part of the history or orthodoxy of the Church over the past two thousand years. Therefore, we should take Mormons at their word and not call them “Christians” in any historic or orthodox sense.
A brief survey of Mormon beliefs reveals that Mormons are indeed far removed from traditional and foundational Christian doctrines.
To begin with, Mormons reject the doctrine of the Trinity which states that there is one God, consisting of three co-equal and co-eternal persons: “Latter-Day Saints reject the doctrines of the Trinity as taught by most Christian churches today.” Mormons also have beliefs about the individual persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that are at wide variance with traditional Christianity. For instance, they teach, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.” It should be noted that this flatly contradicts the Scriptural witness that “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and “a spirit does not have flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39). Moreover, Mormons teach that God was once a man: “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!” This, of course, denies the immutability and the eternality of God (cf. Malachi 3:6, Psalm 90:2).
As for Christ, Mormonism teaches that Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer. Mormons espouse that when the world was in need of a Savior, both Jesus and Satan presented their cases before the Father as to who would make the better Redeemer. Then, “after hearing both sons speak, Heavenly Father said, ‘I will send the first.’ Jesus Christ was chosen and ordained to be our Savior.” Certainly this fanciful meeting between the Father, Son, and Satan is far outside the pale of biblical Christianity. Jesus is consistently referred to as God’s “only Son” (John 1:14, 3:16, 18, 1 John 4:9) and, as such, was not chosen to be the Savior over any other Messianic contenders, especially Satan. Instead, God planned our salvation in Christ from “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). Salvation in Christ was God’s original and eternal plan.
With such a skewed Trinitarian theology and Christology, it is no surprise that the Mormon gospel of salvation is really no gospel at all. For Mormons, salvation is two-fold. First, salvation is a person’s personal progression to divinity. That is, Mormons believe humans can become gods. Joseph Smith explains: “Here, then, is eternal life – to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves…To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of God, and ascend the throne of eternal power.” This is not only an untrue statement, but resonates all the way back to the Garden of Eden where Satan tempted Adam and Eve to believe they could usurp God’s position and prerogative. This is why he says to Adam and Eve, when he is trying to entice them to eat God’s forbidden fruit, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Mormons jettison a fundamental distinction of Christian theology: the distinction between the created and the Creator. They imagine that creatures can become like the Creator. This is flatly false.
Second, Mormons teach that salvation is ultimately a product of a person’s moral progression. Though Mormons believe that humans are saved by grace, they do not believe they are saved by grace alone. A famous and oft-quoted passage from the Book of Mormon makes this clear enough: “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Contrast this with the apostle Paul’s famous words concerning God’s grace: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this isnot your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus’ work on the cross for our salvation is complete. There is no work we can do to contribute to our salvation.
This is only a small sampling of the false teachings promulgated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Other teachings, as well as the historical and moral veracity of Mormonism’s sacred writings, are highly suspect as well. Therefore, whatever one may believe about Mormonism’s moral value or theological worth, it cannot be said that Mormonism is “Christian” in any traditional sense of the term. Albert Mohler summarizes the problem with Mormon theology well:
Mormonism borrows Christian themes, personalities, and narratives. Nevertheless, it rejects what orthodox Christianity affirms and it affirms what orthodox Christianity rejects. It is not orthodox Christianity in a new form or another branch of the Christian tradition. By its own teachings and claims, it rejects any claim of continuity with orthodox Christianity. Insofar as an individual Mormon holds to the teachings of the Latter-Day Saints, he or she repudiates biblical Christianity.
In short, Mormonism is not Christianity, nor is it a branch or part of Christianity. If you’d like to learn more about Mormonism and its theological teachings, you can find a wealth of resources at http://www.evidenceministries.org.
The Status of Mormonism
Having addressed the teachings of Mormonism theologically, we now move to discuss the status of Mormonism religiously. Pastor Jeffress called the religion a “cult.” Is it?
In its original context, the word “cult” did not carry with it the negative connotations it has today. The word comes from the Latin cultus, originally describing merely the worship of a deity. Today, however, this word carries with it a wide variety of definitions, many of them sounding sinister. For the sake of brevity, we will examine two definitions of this word – the first being theological in nature and the second being psychological and sociological in nature – and evaluate the status of Mormonism as a cult accordingly.
Theologically, a good definition of a “cult” can be found in the book, The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation. In this work, sociologists Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge define a “cult” thusly: “The cult is something new vis-à-vis the other religious bodies of the society…The cult adds to that culture a new revelation or insight justifying the claim that it is different, new, ‘more advanced.’” According to this definition, Mormonism clearly qualifies as a cult. It is a new revelation and religion which objects to the historic, orthodox Christian position as something corrupt and apostate. Indeed, the very byline of The Book of Mormon, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” is a claim of additional, peculiar, and advanced revelation. In this sense, then, Pastor Jeffress is correct. Mormonism is considered to be a cult by most major evangelical denominations and is often called a cult within our own church body, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
Psychologically and sociologically, we can use a definition of a “cult” from Louis Joylon West:
A cult is a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g. isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc.) designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders.
According to West, a cult is that which is explicitly psychologically and sociologically subversive. It brings to mind people such as Jim Jones and David Koresh and their movements rather than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Much of the outrage in the media over Pastor Jeffress’ words calling Mormonism a cult would seem to stem from defining the word “cult” psychologically and sociologically rather than theologically.
As Christians, who are called to think theologically about issues such as this, we can indeed call Mormonism a “cult” because of its claim to additional revelation apart from and outside of Holy Scripture which results in the maligning of Christian theology. This designation, however, does not necessarily imply that Mormonism has all the psychological and sociological hallmarks of a cult. A Christian’s designation of Mormonism as a cult is primarily a theological rather than a psychological and sociological one.
Our Duty as Christians
Lastly, we move to consider how we, as Christian citizens, can respond to this controversy vocationally. The word “vocation” is from the Latin vocatio and means “calling.” The doctrine of vocation states that all Christians have been called by God to serve in different stations in life – whether that be the station of an employee, an employer, a husband, a wife, a mother, a father, a child, a volunteer, etc. One of the vocations, or callings, God has given to Christians is that of “citizen.” On the one hand, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom by faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:19). On the other hand, we are also citizens, either by birth or by naturalization, of a particular country. This earthly vocation of citizen, in turn, comes with both duties (e.g., Luke 20:21-25) and privileges (e.g., Acts 22:25) as determined by governing authorities which are themselves instituted by God. One of the duties and privileges United States citizens carry is that of voting for the country’s president. As Christians, the question arises: “How can I vote in a way that is faithful to God while also seeking to elect a person who will do the best job leading the country?”
It must be noted that there is no easy – or singular – answer to this question. Nevertheless, there are some guiding principles which can help us cast an informed vote.
First, it is important to understand that, while we, as Christians, live in two kingdoms – the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man – the leaders we elect rule over only one kingdom – the kingdom of man. Thus, our primary concern should be with their competence to lead in this kingdom. This means that when we vote, we should consider a candidate’s familiarity with our Constitution and laws and his ability to navigate the intricacies of our legislative process. If he is inept in either of these areas, this should give us pause. A public official’s inability to operate effectively inside our nation’s governmental system can spell disaster for our public policy and welfare, for the official will be unable to execute the demands of his office. Competence is key.
Second, we must also understand that some of the spiritual concerns of the Kingdom of God are part of the natural, moral law which God has placed in this world and thus pertain to the political and public policy making of the kingdom of man. Issues such as abortion, which pertains to the natural, moral duty we have to uphold human life (cf. Exodus 20:13), homosexuality, which goes against the natural design of creation (cf. Romans 1:26-27), and care for those who cannot care for themselves, to which we are naturally inclined despite our depravity (cf. Matthew 7:9-11), ought to be taken into consideration as we decide for whom we will vote. If a candidate runs a platform contrary to natural, moral law, this too should give us pause, for this candidate can potentially do harm to our nation’s citizens.
With these two criteria in mind, then, we have a Christian duty to vote for candidates who, on the one hand, are capable and competent to rule in the kingdom of man, for this is what they are called to do, while, on the other hand, are at the same time aligned with those concerns of the natural, moral law of God which pertain to the political and public policy making in the kingdom of man.
All of this is to say that a candidate does not have to be Christian to be a suitable candidate for public office, though we can certainly be thankful that there are Christians in public and political offices. Ultimately, Luther would advise us to vote for a competent candidate, even if he is not personally moral or Christian:
The reasonable question has been put whether it is better to have a good but imprudent ruler…or a prudent but personally bad one. Moses here certainly calls for both [ref. Deuteronomy 1:13-16]: a good and prudent ruler. However, if both qualifications cannot be had, a prudent ruler who is not personally good is better than a good one who is not prudent, because a good one rules nothing but is only ruled – and only by the worst of people. Even though a prudent but personally bad ruler may harm the good people, he nevertheless rules the evil ones at the same time; and this is more necessary and proper for the world, since the world is nothing but a mass of evil people.
Because a politician rules in the kingdom of man, his competence to do so should be the primary criterion used in discerning his fitness for office. If he is a Christian, great! If not, it is better to have a competent ruler who is not a Christian than an incompetent ruler who is a Christian.
Finally, Christians, out of theological conviction and consecrated consciences, can and do vote for different candidates. Because we live in a sinful and fallen world and, as such, we vote for sinful and fallen candidates, Christians come to differing conclusions as to which candidate would best serve in a particular public office. Christians’ consciences need not be unduly bound in such decisions. The pastors of Concordia believe that, given the choice between two candidates of equal competence, if one is a Christian and the other is not, wisdom instructs us to vote for the Christian candidate because he will not only serve his country skillfully as a politician, but faithfully as a Christian as he seeks God’s guidance. This guidance will make his leadership in public office all the more effective.
Pastor Jeffress has endorsed Rick Perry for President of the United States. As a citizen, he is certainly free to make this endorsement. As a pastor, however, he must be careful speaking on behalf of a political candidate in a public forum such as the Values Voter Summit. For his primary vocation as a pastor is the faithful stewardship of the gospel. Anything that jeopardizes this stewardship is to be rejected. The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod explains: “The church is a precious institution for us, which dare not be jeopardized by immersion in secular politics.” We, as Christian citizens of this country, are also free to endorse and vote for our preferred candidates. However, our preferred candidates need not be the same as Pastor Jeffress’. Each Christian can come to his own conclusions concerning for whom he will vote.
As citizens of this country, we are free to vote for whomever we want. As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we are free to vote in accordance with our consecrated consciences. Thank God for both freedoms.
 Robert Jeffress at the Values Voter Summit, October 7, 2011, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700186158/Video-of-Pastor-Robert-Jeffress-at-Values-Voters-Summit.html.
 Associated Press, “Perry Backer: Romney in a ‘Cult,’ Not a Christian,” http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/10/07/perry-backer-romney-in-cult-not-christian/.
 “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” is the official and legal name of what is colloquially called “the Mormon Church.” Both names are used interchangeably throughout this statement.
 Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1922) 68.
 Daniel Peterson and Stephen Ricks, “Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity” (March 1988) http://lds.org/ensign/1988/03/comparing-lds-beliefs-with-first-century-christianity?lang=eng.
 Doctrine and Covenants, 130.22, http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/130?lang=eng.
 Scriptural citations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2001).
 Achieving a Celestial Marriage: Student Manual (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1992) 129.
 Gospel Principles, Chapter 3, http://lds.org/library/display/0,4945,11-1-13-6,00.html.
 Joseph Smith cited in R. Philip Roberts, Mormonism Unmasked (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1998) 55.
 The Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1981) 2 Nephi 25:23.
 For instance, The Book of Mormon makes an inaccurate historical claim that Jesus was born in Jerusalem (Alma 7:10). He was born in Bethlehem. The Book of Mormon becomes morally suspect when one realizes that Joseph Smith plagiarized large portions of the King James Version of the Bible and inserted them wholesale into his work (e.g., compare Moroni 10 with 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, 2 Nephi 14 with Isaiah 4, and 2 Nephi 12 with Isaiah 2). Moreover, Joseph Smith claimed to have translated The Pearl of Great Price, part of the Mormon canon of scriptures, from Egyptian scrolls which he explained, “Contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc.” (History of the Church 2:236). Egyptologists have since found that these papyri are nothing more than standard Egyptian funereal documents, speaking of Egyptian gods and goddesses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Abraham). Richard John Neuhaus says of Mormonism, “There is…the surpassingly awkward fact that not a single person, place, or event that is unique to the Book of Mormon has ever been proven to exist. Outside the fanum of true believers, these tales cannot help but appear to be the product of fantasy and fabrication” (http://www.irr.org/mit/neuhaus.html).
 Albert Mohler, “Mormonism, Democracy, and the Urgent Need for Evangelical Thinking” (October 10, 2011) http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/10/10/mormonism-democracy-and-the-urgent-need-for-evangelical-thinking/.
 If you would like to know more about the religious worldview of the Mormon Church, click the third slide on the Evidence Ministries home page. This article was written by the Mormon Church and appears in one of their official teaching manuals. In the opinion of Evidence Ministries, it is the best thing a Christian can read in order to understand the clearly non-Christian nature of Mormonism.
 Rodney Stark & William Sims Bainbridge, The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985) 25-26. Surprisingly, the authors later assert that Mormonism is not a cult, even though they admit that, according their own definition, Mormonism qualifies to be classified as such: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints presents problems of classification. Clearly it is not just another protestant sect….The Mormon Church has added so much novel doctrine to the Christian-Judaic tradition that it represents a new religious tradition in its own right, and there can be no doubt that this tradition is deviant….Clearly, Mormonism fits our definition of a cult. However, because the Mormons succeeded in building their Zion in the empty deserts of the West, most Mormons do not experience life as members of a religious minority. In Utah, Mormonism is the dominant religious tradition, and this feeling sustains Mormons in nearby states as well. For this reason…we classified schismatic Mormon groups in Utah as sects, coding such groups as cults only if they developed outside of Utah” (245). Stark and Bainbridge do not classify Mormonism as a cult simply because of the number of Mormons in some western parts of the country.
 For instance, Edgar P. Kaiser’s short book, How To Respond to the Latter-Day Saints, is filed under “Cults” in Concordia Publishing House’s cataloging system.
 L.J. West & M.D. Langone, “Cultism: A conference for scholars and policy makers. Summary of proceedings of the Wingspread conference on cultism, 9-11 September” (Weston: American Family Foundation, 1985).
 It should be noted that Joseph Smith was known to be quite coercive, threatening damnation on young ladies so that he could procure them as his wives (http://www.irr.org/mit/neuhaus.html). In this sense, Mormonism, during its formative stage, displayed some cult-like tendencies as they are defined above.
 For more on vocation, see Gene Veith, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002).
 Lutherans have always affirmed a legitimate role for government in the kingdom of this world. Accordingly, we ought to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2). For a good discussion on the government’s role in the Christian’s life, see Render Unto Caesar…A Lutheran View of Church and State, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (September 1995) http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=465.
 Whether or not a person is a Christian, the Bible reminds us that God has instilled in each human being a natural, moral compass: “For when Gentiles [i.e., pagans], who do not have the law [of God], by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:14-15). These verses remind us that there are basic moral strictures incumbent on every human being whether or not they are Christians.
 Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder,” is one of the Ten Commandments. Lutherans have classically understood the Ten Commandments to be an expression of natural, moral law. “The Ten Commandments had spread over the whole world not only before Moses but even before Abraham and all the patriarchs” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 47, J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, eds. [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999] 89). “In some way human reason naturally understands the [Ten Commandments] (for it has the same judgment divinely written in the mind)” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Paul McCain et al, eds. [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005] Ap IV 7).
 Martin Luther, What Luther Says, Ewald Plass, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959) 582.
 Render Unto Caesar…A Lutheran View of Church and State, 91.
I don’t know about tomorrow;
I just live from day to day.
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to gray.
I don’t worry o’er the future,
For I know what Jesus said.
And today I’ll walk beside Him,
For He knows what lies ahead.
These words are simple, but powerfully true. And, I would add, they are also sorely needed in our world.
We live in a world full of uncertainty. The stock market can swing several hundred points in a day. A single poll can crown a new frontrunner in our current presidential race. Tragedy can strike in an instant. It’s impossible to know what tomorrow will bring. That’s why I love the words of this spiritual: “Today I’ll walk beside Him, for He knows what lies ahead.” Jesus, the song says, knows with certainty what lies ahead in an uncertain world. The chorus continues:
Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand,
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.
We cannot even manage to predict the weather of tomorrow, much less control the events of tomorrow. But Christ can do both. Tomorrow is held by Christ.
In ABC this past weekend, we kicked off a two-week mini-series titled “More Blessed” where we are taking a look at faithful stewardship. The Bible calls us to steward our resources faithfully by stewarding them generously. The Psalmist puts it succinctly when he says, “The righteous give generously” (Psalm 37:21). However, I know that in such a shaky world, sometimes the call to give generously can be a daunting one. After all, the specter of being generous with our resources only to watch them evaporate in the calamity of a terrible tomorrow is unsettling. This is why so many people prefer to keep what they have while they still have it!
Contrary to the world’s call to keep what you have while you still have it, Christians are called to be givers and sharers. And we can be givers and sharers – and feel at peace about it – thanks to the doctrine of God’s immutability. For with the rock-solid assurance God’s changeless character, we can trust Him to provide for our needs, even as He has done in the past (cf. Luke 11:3). This frees us up to fearlessly share with others that which God already has provided us. For more good gifts are sure to come from His hand.
The church father Augustine connected the doctrine of God’s immutability to the doctrine of God’s omniscience:
God does not pass from this to that by transition of thought, but beholds all things with absolute unchangeableness; so that of those things which emerge in time, the future, indeed, are not yet, and the present are now, and the past no longer are; but all of these are by Him comprehended in His stable and eternal presence.
Augustine’s argument concerning God’s immutability and omniscience is an important one. Because God, Augustine argues, knows all – past, present, and future – nothing catches God off-guard. Thus, God responds to the tragedies, trials, and terrors of this world not spastically or sporadically, but intentionally and wisely because He is already thoroughly familiar with them, even before they happen. We can therefore trust God with our futures and be assured that He will carry us through by “His stable and eternal presence.”
Augustine’s words are a great comfort to me. For if God knows all, then he knows all that I need. And He will surely provide for what I need in His changeless, steady, stable, and immutable way. For nothing – none of my needs, tragedies, or trials – catches my God off guard.
The final verse of that old spiritual goes:
I don’t know about tomorrow,
It may bring me poverty.
But the One who feeds the sparrow
Is the One who stands by me.
This is the precious promise of God’s immutable provision. I hope you steward your resources like you believe it.
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 “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow,” http://www.hymnlyrics.org/newlyrics_i/i_know_who_holds_tomorrow.php
In 1754, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the preeminent Genevan philosopher of his day and pictured in this blog, wrote a book titled Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men. In it, Rousseau opines longingly for man’s primitive state. Contrary to the restrictions and mores modern society thrusts on us, primitive man, Rousseau declares, was carefree, without any language, any personal property, and any need to live in committed relationships. Rousseau declares, “Males and females united fortuitously, according to chance encounters, opportunity, and desire…They parted just as readily.” In other words, primitive society was the ultimate free love society, that is, minus the love part. Rousseau continues, “Man’s first sentiment was that of his existence, his first care that for his preservation. The earth’s products provided him with all necessary support, instinct moved him to use them…There was one [instinct] that prompted him to perpetuate his species; and this blind inclination, devoid of any sentiment of the heart, produced only a purely animal act.” According to Rousseau’s primitive, paradisiacal world, sex was only a brute, animal act, devoid of any pesky sentiments or connections. There was no affection, no emotional warmth – just skin against skin, flesh against flesh.
Rousseau’s vision and version of primitive man, of course, is diametrically opposed to the Bible’s account of our origins. Sex, according to the Bible, is not the result of brute, animal instinct. Rather, sex is a gift from God, bestowed on humans to connect husbands and wives in every human way possible: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
The Old Testament uses an interesting euphemism for sexual relations. Rather than using the word “sex” as a verb, it will speak of people “knowing” each other. For example, when Adam and Eve come together as husband and wife, Genesis says, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain” (Genesis 4:1).
This euphemism of “knowing” for sex gives us some insight into the depth and profundity of human sexuality. Contrary to Rousseau’s assertion, sex is not just skin against skin and flesh against flesh devoid of any commitment or compassion. Sex unites people – not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. The apostle Paul explains it this way: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:15-17). As I mentioned in ABC, the city of Corinth boasted a temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and sex. At the temple, there were over one thousand prostitutes who serviced so-called “worshippers” in wild orgies celebrating Aphrodite. Apparently, even the Corinthian Christians developed a penchant for participating the temple’s debauchery. Like the pagans of Corinth, the Christians too began hooking up and breaking up. It was a Rousseaurian dream. But Paul knows that this kind of sexual looseness is not God’s dream. “Sex,” Paul says, “unifies one person to another in body. Thus, if you have sex with a prostitute, you are unifying yourself to her bodily.” But sex does not stop with fleshly unification. Paul also speaks of being “one with the Lord in spirit.” This too is a part of sex. This is why the Hebrew writers use the word “know” as a euphemism for sex. For sex creates a deep, emotional bond between two people. This is why divorces hurt so badly. Two people are being ripped apart who have been connected at the deepest levels of their being.
The apostle Paul writes concerning eternity: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The knowing of sexual intimacy is deep and abiding. But it will pale in comparison to the richness and depth and breadth with which we will know our Savior in heaven. This is the true and greatest knowledge for which we hope…and for which we wait.
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 Jean-Jacques Rousseau & Victor Gourevitch, The Disourses and Other Early Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) 145.
 Ibid., 161.
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” – Steve Jobs
When I was in college, I worked as a DJ at the number one radio station in Austin. It was a country station, owned by a former mayor of Austin, and operated by a general manager who seemed to have a knack for picking the next country hit and formatting the station in such a way to draw in thousands upon thousands listeners – even those far beyond the Austin city limits. But then, in 1998, the station was sold to a large conglomerate that operated hundreds of stations across the country. The changes to station came almost instantaneously. The corporation set up several focus groups, asking listeners what they wanted out of a country station. Changes to the format were then made accordingly. And the ratings plummeted. In fact, they were cut in half.
How could this have happened? After all, the corporation was only listening to the listeners! But then, the listeners stopped listening to the very things for which they asked! Perhaps they should have taken a lesson from Steve Jobs: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
There has never been, nor will there probably ever be, anyone quite like Steve Jobs. He revolutionized – quite literally – the way we interact not only with technology, but they way we interact with each other and our world. The products he dreamed up are everywhere. In fact, I have to chuckle to myself even as I type this blog. I am typing it on my MacBook Pro. On my desk, sits my iPhone, on which I have already texted and talked this morning, as well as my iPad, on which I read the news of Steve Jobs’ passing.
One of the secrets to Steve Jobs’ success seems to have been his ability to dream. Rather than reacting to what people wanted, he dreamed of what could be. He figured that if his dreams of what could be captured his imagination, they might capture the imaginations of others as well. Indeed, Jobs often described his own creations as “magical.” Now there’s a word that captures the human imagination!
Apple’s products have certainly captured my imagination. Just three years ago, I did all my work on a PC. Now, I do everything on Apple products. Why? Because Steve Jobs cast a vision for me of a highly integrated system of devices that would increase my productivity and, of course, be a lot of fun to use! This is something I would never have dreamed of for myself. But I’m happy that somebody dreamed it for me – and for countless others.
People don’t know always what they need. So someone must dream what people need for them. Understanding this simple truth has served as a catalyst for many of the most visionary corporations in our world today. It is also the simple truth of the gospel. The fact of the matter is this: On our own, we do not know what we need. We do not know that we need a Savior. As Jesus tells the Sadducees, a group of religious leaders who thought they knew God well, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). On our own, we cannot fathom the seriousness of our sinfulness. On our own, we cannot confess the depth of our depravity. On our own, we cannot recognize our requirement for a Redeemer. This is why, rather than leaving us grappling to understand the desperate state of our wicked and wretched plight, God sends us Jesus to tell us what we need. And what we need is simple: We need Him. And so Jesus gives us Himself on a cross to sanitize us from our sinfulness, destroy our depravity, and escort us into eternity.
Steve Jobs was a brilliant man. And I am thankful for his life and his legacy. But as great as his technological innovations may have been, they cannot save us. They cannot save him. Only Jesus can do that. I hope you know that you need Him…even more than your iPad.
Christianity promotes and celebrates the value and the glory of work. Indeed, the famed, even if sometimes maligned, “Protestant Work Ethic” has been instrumental in engendering much of the industriousness that has marked the history of this country. From the faith’s earliest years, Christians have esteemed work and eschewed laziness. The Didache, a manual of early Christian practice, doctrine, and discipline from the turn of the second century, lays down this rule for those who wish to join the Christian community:
Let every one that comes in the name of the Lord be received…If the comer is a traveller, assist him, so far as you are able; but he shall not stay with you more than two or three days, if it be necessary. But if he wishes to settle with you, being a craftsman, let him work for and eat his bread. But if he has no craft, according to your wisdom provide how he shall live as a Christian among you, but not in idleness. If he will not do this, he is trafficking upon Christ. Beware of such men. (Didache 12:1-5)
With these words, we hear a call to both charity and industry. On the one hand, Christians are to receive even strangers into their midst and assist them as much as possible. On the other hand, if Christians catch whiffs of idleness among a person who joins their ranks, he is to be disciplined. Laziness will not be tolerated.
Certainly such a strict and demanding work ethic has raised more than a little ire among many. Overbearing corporate policies and malfeasance among management types is the bane of many rank and file employees. These troubles, in turn, often lead to a spirit of idleness. After all, the reasoning goes, if a work environment is miserable and miserly, why would an employee want to give it their all? If the powers that be won’t treat them fairly, they simply won’t offer their best. They’ll just do what they need to do to keep their job until a better prospect comes along. The difficulty with this kind of thinking, however, is that it is patently unbiblical. The apostle Peter admonishes:
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. (1 Peter 2:18-20)
A couple of words jump out at me from this passage. First, the word for “masters” is despotes, from which we get our English word “despot.” In our day and age, nobody likes a despot. Dictionary.com defines a “despot” as “any tyrant or oppressor.” Peter says, despite the wickedness of some despotic superiors, we still ought to work hard. Their vileness should not result in our laziness. Second, the word for “harsh” in Greek is skolios, from which we get our medical term “scoliosis,” a condition which describes an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine, or, more popularly stated, a crooked back. Peter knows full well that many managers are crooked. Yet, he encourages us to be faithful in our work even when these managers are unfaithful in their leadership.
The sentiment put forth by Peter’s words is certainly not a popular one. But is a Christian one. Peter knows and admits that our work will not always be easy. And yet, when our work is hard and the road is long, we have this promise: God is working in us and through us amidst even the most adverse of circumstances. As Paul reminds us, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). Our work, then – even our arduous work – is a place and a space for God to work. God hides His glorious work in our sorrowful work.
Do you see your work this way? By faith, you can. I love the way Gene Veith puts it in his book on Christian vocation: “It is faith that transforms suffering into a cross.” May we see the suffering we encounter in our vocations as a cross, gifted to us by Christ, redeeming our suffering for His glory.
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