Archive for August, 2013
I am at 71° 10′ 21″ N deep in the Arctic Circle among the Sami people. Here in the Land of the Mid-night Sun I have just sailed by the North Cape, (Nordkapp), the northern most point in Europe. The North Cape is a captivating large stone mountain that rises 1,000 feet above the North Sea.
At this season of the year the earth is tilted on its axis providing the Summer Solstice. Sunset: 12:00 PM and sunrise: 12:00 AM allowing twenty-four hour days with no nights. The people who live here maintain their same schedules all year long without considering if there are 24 hours of daylight or dark.
Nearby is Hammingsvag, Norway, the northern most city in Europe. Here only the Svalbard Islands are between you and the North Pole. As a chaplain for Holland America Cruise Lines I sailed here on the Ryadam. The journey involved 4,000 miles of sailing from Dover, England along the coast of Norway through open seas and beautiful narrow fjords. Along the way of this fourteen day journey were intermittent stops at lovely Norwegian cities and small ports tucked away at the end of narrow fjords.
First mention of the Sami people was in AD 98 by the Roman senator, orator, and historian Tactius. The Sami are indigenous to Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and part of Russia. Years ago as immigrants began to move into their region in order to change them the interlopers found the Sami lifestyle so appealing they adapted to it. For years they have been know as “the reindeer people” because of being reindeer herdsmen. By invitation they introduced reindeer ranching to Alaska. They have their own language and parliament that presides over them in the parts of the four nations they inhabit. On a broad scale the Sami have embraced Christianity.
Because of the northern location of Samiland, also known as Lappland, at certain seasons they enjoy the beautiful spectacle of the northern lights known as the aurora borealis. It is nature’s best light show.
The region is also known for having what is called fata morgana. As used by the people of the region the term describes a strange phenomena caused by the pure cool rarified air of the region. It results in objects appearing to be much closer than they are. It gives a two dimensional view with no depth, thus a flat appearance distorting distances. It is a mirage effect.
Norway was for years considered one of Europe’s poorest countries. In the early 1960s oil exploration was begun which resulted in the first strike in 1996. Production began in 1998, transforming the country into one of the most prosperous in Europe. We sailed through vast areas of the North Sea that was dotted with oil rigs. Vast oil and gas refineries are located along the countries long seacoast. They are using the latest technology to insure safety and avoid disasters such as the Alexander Kielland disaster in 1980, that killed 123 people.
Large artistic roadways cross the country. Numerous tunnels along the way can be seen that make villages formerly inaccessible by land open to the interior. Many of these are more than a mile long.
Norway can serve as an example to America as to what indigenous oil and gas can do for a nation’s economy without a threat to the environment and people.
This column is in response to requests for insights into the difference between Mormonism and traditional Christianity.
I have dear friends who are Mormons. They, like most Mormons, are gracious socially, exceptional family people, and in general good citizens. As such they personally are objects of my regard.
The Church of Latter Day Saints is better known as Mormonism. I would not deliberately misrepresent any person’s faith so I hope Mormons find the following to be a fair representation of their faith based on the teachings of their church. Each of these points comes from a document accepted by the Church of Latter Day Saints (hereafter noted as “the Church”) and is documented accordingly.
Space limits the ability to reveal the numerous ways the teachings of the Church differ from the Bible. Therefore, only a few will be considered. Members of the Church say they believe Jesus Christ is the Firstborn of God the Father. By that what do they mean?
They believe “We are sons and daughters of God, and we lived in a premortal existence as His spirit children” (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History, [hereafter noted as “D&C”], p. 106).
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!!! . . . We have imagined that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea and take away the veil, so that you may see,” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345).
God used to be a man on another planet, (Mormon Doctrine, p. 321; Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons, vol. 5, p. 613-614; Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 345; Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 333).
God the Father had a Father, (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 476; Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses, vol. 5, p. 19; Milton Hunter, First Council of the Seventy, Gospel through the Ages, p. 104-105).
There is a mother god, (Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, p. 443). God is married to his goddess wife and has spirit children, (Mormon Doctrine, p. 516).
The first spirit to be born in heaven was Jesus, (Mormon Doctrine, p. 129). Jesus and Satan are spirit brothers and we were all born as siblings in heaven to them both, (Mormon Doctrine, p. 163; Gospel Through the Ages, p. 15). “Therefore we know that both the Father and the Son are in form and stature perfect men; each of them possesses a tangible body . . . of flesh and bones,” (Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, p. 38).
The Devil was born as a spirit after Jesus “in the morning of pre-existence,” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 192). Jesus and Satan are spirit brothers and we were all born as siblings in heaven to them both, (Mormon Doctrine, p. 163).
A plan of salvation was needed for the people of earth so Jesus offered a plan to the Father and Satan offered a plan to the Father. Jesus’ plan was accepted. In effect the Devil wanted to be the Savior of all Mankind and to “deny men their agency in order to dethrone God,” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 193; Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 8).
“The fact that there is no reference to a mother in heaven either in the Bible, Book of Mormon or Doctrine and Covenants, is not sufficient proof that no such thing as a mother did not exist there” (Answers to Gospel Questions, Joseph Smith, Jr., p. 143).
Jesus was the “Firstborn” of the Sovereign’s offsprings. Lucifer, his brother, was the second born in the morning of pre-existence, and the rest of human beings followed in this premortal existence. “We are all the spiritual children of heavenly parents.” (Eternal Marriage Student Manual, p. 259).
“The child to be born to Mary was begotten by Elohim (God).”
This is called “celestial Sireship.” (The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, p. 23)
The Church teaches there is an after life when righteous spirits carry the message of salvation to wicked spirits in hell and co-mingle. At this point those wicked spirits can repent and be freed. (Preparation for Exaltation, p. 36).
The Church teaches the Father in heaven was once a man as we are now, capable of physical death. He progressed through stages to reach the stage of “exaltation of godhood.” Humans have the power to reach godhood. When we become gods we will have jurisdiction over worlds that will be peopled by our offsprings. (Achieving a Celestial Marriage, p. 132).
The Church holds that “Jesus Christ was married at Cana of Galilee, that Mary, Martha, and others were his wives, and that he begat children” (Orson Hyde (apostle) The Judgments of God on the United States, (March 15, 1855) in Journal of Discourses, p. 210).
The following are two of the primary reasons some consider The Church of Latter Day Saints, Mormonism, a cult.
Joseph Smith, Jr. taught The Book of Mormon is more reliable than the Bible, (History of the Church, p. 4:461). It advocates that if it had not been for Joseph Smith and the restoration, there would be no salvation. There is no salvation outside the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (Mormon Doctrine, p.670).
By way of contrast the Bible teaches Jesus is called “God’s only begotten Son.” The word “begotten” is a compound of two Greek words used in Scripture. One word is mono, meaning “one.” The other is genes, meaning “kind, type, or species.” Combined they are used to speak of God’s only one of a kind son. The Greek word “monogenees” is used to mean the only one of the same nature as. In Scripture Jesus is not spoken of as a Son of God, but the Son of God.
Two different Greek words are translated “son” in Scripture.
Teknon stresses the fact of human birth. It is used of homo sapiens.
Huios emphasizes dignity and character relationship. It is used of Jesus.
The word “son” does not mean prodigy. A good dictionary defines “son” as one associated with or identified with. James and John were the sons of thunder. Barnabas was the son of encouragement.
John 3: 16 refers to Jesus as “the only begotten Son of God.” The Greek text literally means He was “God’s only one of a kind Son.” Jesus, as a member of the Trinity, was God the Son along with God the Holy Spirit and God the Father.
“Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory” I Timothy 3:16
Question: When was God manifested in the flesh and fulfilled all these traits?” In the person of Jesus.
“In Him dwells all the fullness of the godhead bodily.” Colossians 2: 9
In Acts 20: 28 reference is made to “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” When did God shed blood? On the cross. Who was that on the cross? It was Jesus Christ — God.
Philippians 2: 5 – 7: “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking on the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men….”
The first use of “form” translates the Greek word MORPHE meaning nature of character. His nature, His very essence, was God.
The second use of “form” translates the Greek word SCHEMA, meaning outward form or appearance. His outward appearance was that of a man. Thus, He was “God with us.” The angel said, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated God with us.” Matthew 1: 23
Our Mormon friends can try to explain away every one of these truths, BUT they remain truth. Jesus is God the Son, Immanuel, God with us. He is not “a” God He is “the” God.
At some point the complex issue of the Trinity comes into play. Are there three Gods? NO! “The Lord thy God is one God.” They are three in one. H2O as a liquid is water, as a gas it is a vapor, as a solid it is ice; three in one.
A three leafed clover has three leaves, but is one clover. The Trinity is one God.
Mormonism teaches persons can be baptized for the dead. This is required for the persons ultimate salvation. If it is man’s part in salvation that means that what Jesus did on the cross is incomplete and has to be completed by man, and is completed by baptism. Again I say that indicates what Jesus did on the cross was incomplete. The Bible teaches contrary to that. Salvation is by the blood of Jesus not the water of man.
Bottom line: they believe Jesus is the son of God, but they do not believe Jesus is God the Son. They believe Jesus was “a” son of God just as they conceive all human beings to be.
Christians revere Jesus as the nexus of God. The angel messenger in speaking to Joseph called Jesus Immanuel, meaning God with us. Incarnation is a word describing the process. The root “incarnate” means embodied in flesh.
As such Christians believe Jesus was God manifest as a corporeal, touchable, human being: the man/God-God/man, Immanuel, God with us.
The following by Ron F. Hale was first posted March 13, 2012 on “SBC Today.”
While living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I loved looking down at the cityscape from the perch of Mt. Washington. You could ride the incline car up the steep hillside and see the confluence of the Ohio River as the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers came to an end at “The Point” in downtown Pittsburgh; Three Rivers Stadium is nearby. Depending on the weather in southwestern Pennsylvania, some days you could see muddy waters from one river flowing into the headstream of the Ohio River, while the other river brought much clearer water. These two rivers (one cloudy and one clear) seemed to flow side-by-side while slowly mixing and mingling together in the formation of the mighty Ohio.
Two rivers of theological thought have historically flowed through the mainstream of the Southern Baptist Convention. The waters have been muddied a bit by the Great Awakenings in America, the Sandy Creek revivalist tradition of Separate Baptists in the South, the Charleston tradition influenced more by Particular confessions of faith and their pastors trained in Presbyterian seminaries like Princeton, and the adoption of new Baptist confessions and statements of faith forged in the New World.
Dr. Steve W. Lemke’s précis of the two streams of soteriology (doctrine of salvation) meandering through our Southern Baptist history is enlightening:
To oversimplify a bit, Southern Baptists have two theological tributaries flowing into our mainstream – the Arminian-leaning General Baptists and the Calvinist-leaning Particular Baptists. Unto themselves, these tributaries were essentially free-standing streams, independent of each other. The General Baptists were first chronologically, with leaders such as John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, and Thomas Grantham. The name General Baptist came from their belief in a general atonement – that is, that Christ died for all the people who would respond in faith to Him. These Baptists may not have had access to most or all of Arminius’ works, but they were in agreement with many points of his theology. This theological stream was expressed in doctrinal confessions such as Smyth’s Short Confession of 1610, Helwys’s Declaration of Faith in 1611, the Faith and Practices of 30 Congregations of 1651, and the Standard Confession of 1660. The Free Will Baptists and General Baptists are the purest contemporary denominational expressions of this stream of thought.
In contrast, the name of the Particular Baptists was derived from the fact that they believed in a particular (or limited) atonement – that is, Christ died only for particular people, i.e., the elect. Their best known doctrinal confessions were the 1644 London Baptist Confession (expanded in 1646), the Second London Confession of 1689, and the Philadelphia Confession (of the Philadelphia Association) in 1742. The Second London Confession follows the language of the Reformed Westminster Confession verbatim (except at points that even Calvinistic Baptists differ from Presbyterians), and the Philadelphia Confession likewise copies the Second London Confession almost entirely word for word.
From the Headwaters of the Arminian Stream James Arminius (1560-1609) refused to accept the teachings of Theodore Beza (1519-1605) on election and reprobation. Beza followed John Calvin at the academy of Geneva and was the architect of the view of predestination known as supralapsarianism. This view argued that before God ordained the fall of Adam, He chose certain persons to eternal life and predestined others to eternal damnation.
After studying under Beza in Geneva, Arminius rejected the teachings of his professor and taught another view. After his death, the followers of Arminius became known as the Remonstrants and they published a theological document that contended for the following five things:
1. God conditionally elects individuals according to their foreseen faith.
2. Christ died for the sins of the whole world.
3. No one has the power within himself to turn to God without the assistance of God’s grace.
4. God’s grace can be resisted.
5. It is possible for a Christian to lose his salvation.
From the Headwaters of the Calvinist Stream
The followers of Arminius (the Arminians) and the followers of John Calvin (Calvinists) were embroiled in a theological debate until the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), at which time all five Arminian assertions were rejected.
The five points of Calvinism sought to respond to the five assertions of the Remonstrants (Arminians):
1. Total Depravity – as a result of Adam’s fall, the entire human race is affected; all humanity is dead in trespasses and sin. Man is unable to save himself.
2. Unconditional Election – Because man is dead in sin, he is unable to initiate response to God; therefore, in eternity past, God elected certain people to salvation. Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not based on man’s response.
3. Limited Atonement – Because God determined that certain ones should be saved as a result of God’s unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect. All who God has elected and Christ died for will be saved.
4. Irresistible Grace – Those whom God elected and Christ died for, God draws to Himself through irresistible grace. God makes man willing to come to Him. When God calls, man responds.
5. Perseverance of the Saints — The precise ones God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith. None whom God has elected will be lost; they are eternally secure.
By the time I was pulled from the pagan pool in 1975, Southern Baptists had moved away from Calvinism for almost a century, and there was very little debate between the proponents of Arminianism and Calvinism. The two streams of theological thought had mixed and mingled and the waters had settled down. However, after surrendering my life to God’s call to preach the gospel in 1977, I found the calm waters of Baptist life taking me down some rapids through the years of the Conservative Resurgence. I came out of the rapids holding firmly to the Word of God and convinced that Southern Baptists were making a difference in North America and the world. I found great joy in helping plant new congregations and evangelize in states like Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.
Later I discovered the currents and rapids getting faster again with the Reformed Resurgence or the rise of Calvinism in SBC life. It seems that some rode the rapids of the Conservative Resurgence with the hopes of returning Southern Baptists to what they saw as our “historic roots” in Calvinism. Since I was happy over on Sandy Creek, this seemed new, different, and challenging. I was unfamiliar with many of the names and nuances of the doctrines of Sovereign Grace and the system of Reformed theology.
Recently I was intrigued by the writings of pastor and theologian Dr. Eric Hankins. In a journal article entitled “Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward A Baptist Soteriology,” he says, After four hundred years, Calvinism and Arminianism remain at an impasse. The strengths and weaknesses of both systems are well-documented, and their proponents vociferously aver each system’s mutual exclusivity. This paper is based on the observation that these two theological programs have had sufficient time to demonstrate their superiority over the other and have failed to do so. The time has come, therefore, to look beyond them for a paradigm that gives a better account of the biblical and theological data. Indeed, the stalemate itself is related not so much to the unique features of each system but to a set of erroneous presuppositions upon which both are constructed. As the fault lines in these foundational concepts are exposed, it will become clear that the Baptist vision for soteriology, which has always resisted absolute fidelity to either system, has been the correct instinct all along. Baptist theology must be willing to articulate this vision in a compelling and comprehensive manner.
Dr. Hankins is correct that we must move beyond the things that have always divided us. The balkanization of the Southern Baptist Convention will escalate with the quibbles and quarrels growing more intense if we do not move beyond the hair-splitting and nit-picking that has plagued this unending doctrinal debate for almost half a millennium.
Three key understandings help me stay afloat in the white water rapids of change:
1. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). My faith goes back 2000 years to Jerusalem, not four hundred years to Geneva! Jesus is to be first and foremost in my life.
2. “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Books of theology can never satisfy my soul, but the precious Word of God first pointed me to the Savior and feeds my soul until this very day!
3. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). The gospel (not the finer points of theology) is the power of God unto salvation! It was the preaching of the death, burial, and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave with the power to forgive me all my sins that caused my heart to trust Jesus many years ago. And, for over thirty-five years, I’ve seen the gospel break the hearts of sinners as they called on Jesus to save them.
I close with a sentence from the Baptist Faith and Message (Section 1: The Scriptures), “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.” The two rivers of Baptist theology have been mixing and mingling, and serving effectively in the SBC for the past century and a half. Without the living, vital relationship with Jesus Christ (anchored in Scriptures), our two historic rivers of theology turn into the marshy waters of a moat surrounding defensive walls. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have set up a defense when we are supposed to be on the offense. New Testament charges the Church to march forward filled with the Spirit and preach the Word of God, which is sharper than any two-edged sword!
 Steve W. Lemke, “Editorial Introduction: Calvinist, Arminian, and Baptist Perspectives on Soteriology,” Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, 8.1 (Spring, 11), 1.
 Kenneth Keathley, “The Work of God: Salvation,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2007), 702.
 Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody, 2008), 508.
 Eric Hankins, “Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward A Baptist Soteriology,” Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, 8.1 (Spring, 11), 87.