Is Easter a Pagan Holiday?

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Every Easter I have to brace myself for the onslaught of ridiculous meme’s and factually baseless blog articles claiming that Christianity stole Easter from the Pagans.

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A friend of mine contributed a post for my blog on this topic a few years ago which you can find HERE.  With this post I am going to aim for a more detailed analysis on a more narrow approach than he did.  There is evidence and good arguments out there with original sources for defending the Christian origins of the Bunnies and Eggs which you can find HERE.  With this post though I’m focusing on the origins of the holiday itself.    To do that I intend to ask and answer the following questions and go from there.

 

Did the early Christians believe the holy week to have occurred over the Passover?

Did the Early Christians desire to celebrate the resurrection?

Did first century Jews observe the Passover on or around the spring equinox?

 

To address the first two questions I am going to quote some church fathers. What I found was that they didn’t use the word Easter. The word Easter is the English word for Pascha which has its roots in Passover. Kinda boring to find the answer in the word itself but lets continue anyways for science.

I found the below quotes from David W. Bercot’s A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. I selected the quotes below because you can see an evolving dialogue on the dispute in the early church regarding what day Pascha [Easter] should be observed. In this book the word Easter is used to prevent confusion on the part of the reader but it should be known that this is an anachronism, the writers would have used the term “Pascha”.

The thing they seem to dispute the most is whether or not the Church should observe Nisan 14 every year, the Sunday following Nisan 14 to keep the holy week cycle, or if each church should do as they were taught and just be at peace about it.

“When Servilius Paulus was procounsul of Asia, at the time that Sagaris suffered martyrdom, there arose a great controversy at Laodicea concerning the date of Easter [Pascha] , which had fallen due at that time.” Melito, 170 AD Pg 223

“When the blessed Polycarp was visiting in Rome in the time of Anicetus [c. 155 A.D.], . . . they were at once well inclined towards each other, not willing that any quarrel should arise between them upon this matter [the observance of Easter]. For Anicetus could not persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [of his Easter customs] inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant. Nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [Easter in his way], for Anicetus maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him. And in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other.” Irenaeus, c. 180, Pg 500 

“There are some diversities among the churches. Anyone may know this from the facts concerning the celebration of Easter [Pascha]. . . . He may see that here are some diversities among them. All things are not observed alike among the churches, such as are observed at Jerusalem. Similarly, in very many other provinces, many things are varied because of the places and names. Nevertheless, there is no departure at all from the peace and unity of the [universal] church on this account.” Firmilian, AD 256 Pg 500

“As for us, then, we scrupulously observe the exact day, neither adding nor taking away. For in Asia great luminaries have gone to their rest, who will rise again on the day of the coming of the Lord. . . . These all kept Easter [Pascha] on the fourteenth day, in accordance with the Gospel. . . . Seven of my relatives were bishops, and I am the eighth, and my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven.” Polycrates AD 190 Pg 500

“You have sent to me, most faithful and accomplished son, in order to inquire what is the proper hour for bringing the fast to a close on the day of Easter [Pascha].  You say that there are some of the brethren who hold that it should be done at cockcrow.  However, others say that it should end at nightfall…. It will be cordially acknowledge by all that those who have been humbling their souls with fasting should immediately begin their festal joy and gladness at the same hour as the resurrection…. However, no precise account seems to be offered in [Scripture] as to the hour at which he rose.” – Dionysius of Alexandria 262 AD Pg 223

“We make the following statement and explanation to those who seek an exact account of the specific hour, half-hour, or quarter of an hour at which it is proper to begin their rejoicing over our Lord’s rising from the dead: Those who are too hasty and give up even before midnight, we reprove as irresponsible and intemperate.”  – Dionysius of Alexandra 262 AD Pg 223

“Our predecessors, men most learned in the books of the Hebrews and Greeks (I refer to Isidore, Jerome, and Clement) . . . come harmoniously to one and the same most exact determining of Easter [Pascha] —the day, month, and season meeting in accord with the highest honor for the Lord’s resurrection. But Origen also, the most learned of all, and the most discerning in making calculations, . . . has published in a very elegant manner a little book on Easter [Pascha]. . . . For this reason, also, we maintain that those who . . . determine the fourteenth day of the Paschal season by it make no trivial or common blunder. . . . Therefore, in this concurrence of the sun and moon, the Paschal festival is not to be celebrated. For as long as the [sun and moon] are found in this course, the power of darkness is not overcome. And as long as equality between light and darkness endures, and is not diminished by the light, it is shown that the Paschal festival is not to be celebrated. Accordingly, it is directed that the festival be kept after the equinox.” Anatolius AD 270 Pg 500 

“It is your duty, brethren . . . to observe the days of Easter [Pascha] exactly. . . . No longer be concerned about keeping the feast with the Jews, for we now have no communion with them. In fact, they have been led astray in regard to the calculation itself. . . . You should not, through ignorance, celebrate Easter [Pascha] twice in the same year, or celebrate this day of the resurrection of our Lord on any day other than a Sunday.” Apostolic Constitutions, AD 390 Pg 223

 

There was obviously dispute on the date they all felt Easter should be observed. However, I don’t see any plot detailing how they seek to rob a pagan religion of their Ishtar day or anything like that (by the way ishtar only rhymes with easter in english!). Clearly they all believed that the biblical narrative happened on Nisan 14 and they wanted the Christian tradition to be in keeping with that history however the details worked out.

I think that satisfies the first two questions. We have evidence that the Early Christians observed Easter in one form or another. We also see that they were quite passionate about doing it right. So I don’t think there is any basis to say they got it from Pagans. Why the association with the Equinox though?

The first month of the Jewish Lunar calendar happens to be in the spring. Though the specific means have changed over time, a lot of care has been given to ensure that it remains in the spring by adding leap years to the Jewish Calendar. When Leviticus was written the name of the month was different, but today it is called the month of Nisan.

 

“These are the appointed feasts of the Lord , the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the Lord ‘s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord ; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. But you shall present a food offering to the Lord for seven days. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.” ‘ Leviticus 23:4-8 ESV

The only reason then that Passover happens around the equinox in my estimation is because Nisan does. When did Nisan 14 land when Jesus would have been crucified? We don’t know for sure which year he was crucified. According to tradition it was 33 AD, but there are other historic possibilities.

This article gives details on making the best guess that we can though. There is a give and take of a few days on each as the determination of the beginning of a new month at the time was visibility of the moon. Such a thing is highly subjective as we don’t know today which nights were cloudy and which were not in the first century.

Nissan 14

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Jesus crucifixion would have been in March or April. Also, since it’s impossible to nail it down to the precise date then that means arguing over exactly which one of these we should observe it on is a waste of time. We don’t know. The point is though that Easter is a christian tradition not a pagan one. The date for the Passover is rooted in scripture, which means the date for the resurrection is too. The source of the tradition itself is completely biblical in it’s origins.

Okay but why the Equinox?

The truth is this isn’t a question one has to answer. There are many reasons one may establish a holiday based on the equinox that do not require appropriating pagan traditions. For example, they didn’t have digital calendars back then and people wanted to share the same dates for things. I can see how using the equinox or the solstice as a starting point for framing a calculation on a holiday would be pretty handy.

Even if that isn’t the reason though you don’t need one to object to the pagan origins assertion. Just because two things are similar doesn’t mean one was caused by the other. If someone is throwing this at you then you should actually just point out the underlying flaw in their logic. You don’t need to even go any further than that.

Origin of the Modern Dates

I found a good article on this which you can read yourself HERE. The two paragraphs most pertinent though are quoted below for your convenience.

“Easter is the day members of the Christian faith recognize the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is a celebration of life and new beginnings. In 325 AD the church held the First Ecumenical Council known as the Council of Nicea. Prior to the council meeting, churches around the world celebrated Easter at various times. In order to bring unity among the churches, council members created a formula that would calculate the date for Easter celebration around the world. They established Easter to be held on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon, which follows the vernal equinox, but always after Jewish Passover. To avoid any confusion in the date, it was also determined that the vernal equinox would fall on March 21. This system would guarantee that all churches would celebrate Easter together on the same day.”……

“Although the churches were split among several doctrinal views, they both still believed Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon to follow the vernal equinox. The Catholic Church, however, no longer found that it had to fall after Passover. Added to this was the Catholic Church’s switch over from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, which was presented in 1582. The Orthodox Church still held to the original Nicean Council’s formula for Easter as well as following the original calendar system of the Julian calendar. By using two different calendar systems, the vernal equinox now fell on March 21 under the Gregorian calendar and April 3 on the Julian calendar. The two churches now celebrated the same Easter holiday on two different days.”

Conclusion

It’s perfectly rational to assert from history that Easter is thoroughly Christian in it’s origins. Whether you observe on the Western date or the Eastern one is just as valid as it would seem that arguing about the date is part of our heritage too. What you don’t have to deal with is those silly meme’s telling you it’s a pagan day. Please feel free to drop a link to this blog post in any of those that you see.

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Do not call unclean what God has called clean…

 

 

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One of the things Roman Catholics will accuse protestants of is believing in what they call a legal fiction.

My understanding is they believe that God makes you perfect in this life to earn salvation by means of the grace of God. Nevertheless, anyone who enters heaven upon death has reached perfection.  All else go to purgatory to finish that process up or to hell if they died without confessing a mortal sin to a priest.  A more Vatican II friendly Catholic might add some extra nuances to that but the general idea in it’s orthodoxy is the same.

Scripture paints a very different picture in Roman’s 3. Paul says our justification is very much apart from the law.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; ROMANS 3:21‭-‬24 NASB

The reason I selected this one in particular is Rome will compartmentalize a protestant understanding of justification by faith as applying ONLY to their understanding of baptism. After receiving baptism if you commit a mortal sin you have to confess and do penance as you are molded to perfection.  It’s important to understand that they don’t actually ignore passages like the one I quoted, some protestants will set you up for looking silly by not making that clear.

Notice though, Paul isn’t even bringing up Baptism in his argument at all. Paul is roping in all those who believe, which would include those who have already been baptized, and all of which would have very likely sinned since.  Paul is certainly not limiting justification by faith apart from the works of the law to baptism in this passage. If he was he would have said so.

Reading another passage recently though it was fun to unwind an old Adventist thought and find the gospel tucked away in it that relates to my setup.  So I’d like to share.

As an Adventist I was taught to follow the food laws.

You can’t eat pork, it’s a sin.

Leviticus 11 says so.

Why did God forbid eating pork to the Jews? I believe it was as a type and shadow of law and gospel and Jesus victory over sin and death given to us in a physical way that we can see, touch, feel, and relate to.  It’s given in such a way that I think only a first century Jew or former member of a modern judiazing cult can understand. In my opinion it also gives us a clearer understanding of justification by faith that helps bust the legal fiction myth.

Notice Peter objects to eating pork because it’s unclean….

A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”
ACTS 10:13‭-‬15 NASB

As an SDA I would have told you this dream was ONLY symbolic of preaching to gentiles who were considered dogs.  An “only” is hard to argue from scripture to a thinking person.  Many texts can have multiple meanings and good hermeneutics necessitate roping alot of ideas together in a systematic theology.  Very rarely do you have a legit “only” in any given Biblical text. And needing an only so that your SDA theology is more expedient isn’t a good reason.

This text certainly includes both preaching to gentiles and unclean meats being clean.  To Peter at that moment it was considered a sin to eat pork.  But God is telling him it’s now clean. Here’s my point though, nothing obvious to Peter has changed about the pig.  If it was a sin to eat before why isn’t it now?

Is this cleanliness merely a legal fiction?

I argue that the purpose of unclean meats was type and shadow of Justification by faith made in a way we can understand. When Jesus paid the price for sin he has taken old covenant laws and declared them obsolete. What was unclean is now clean. In his death on the cross he has taken us and declared us clean in his blood.

Do we still struggle with our sinful nature in this life?

Yes Paul certainly did…

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. ROMANS 7:15 NASB

Do we change in sanctification in this life? Yes we do. But that process is no measure of justification for we have been made clean.  And by calling Pauls very clear teaching of Justification by faith a legal fiction, Rome indeed calls that unclean which God has made clean.

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Objective Justification

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Not all Lutherans agree on the doctrine of Objective Justification. A notable dissenting synod would be the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDONA). The discerning reader should look at their arguments too.

Simply stated in my own words, the doctrine teaches that Jesus died for everyone and paid for the sins of everyone, even for the people who will be in hell for all eternity.  Below is the wording put out by the LCMS.

“By “objective” or “universal” justification one means that God has declared the whole world to be righteous for Christ’s sake and that righteousness has thus been procured for all people. It is objective because this was God’s unilateral act prior to and in no way dependent upon man’s response to it, and universal because all human beings are embraced by this verdict. God has acquired the forgiveness of sins for all people by declaring that the world for Christ’s sake has been forgiven. The acquiring of forgiveness is the pronouncement of forgiveness.” – CTCR Report Study Theses on Justification #23

 

I’ve assembled some rather standard proof texts for this. These are not all of the passages used in the CTCR but rather are the ones that I found convincing.  Below you will see that passages that I understand as clearly including either everyone in a broad sense or unbelievers in a narrow one.

 

“‘My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:1-2 ESV

“3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” 1 Tim 2:3-6 ESV

‘Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. ‘ Rom 5:18 ESV

“He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” Heb 7:27 ESV

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 ESV

 

Some I’ve read will try to take the passages teaching gratia universalis and argue that they are speaking to all of a narrow category.  So all of some if that helps.  The reason I chose those listed above is because they juxtapose two groups against each other as I think this approach steps around those arguments.  The easiest one being 1 John 2:1-2 which I will post again:

 

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:1-2 ESV

 

The apostle John was certainly a believer, so when he says Jesus is the propitiation for “our” sins he would most logically be meaning himself and the other believers he is writing to.  Then when he wraps in the sins of the whole world in opposition to “our” the plainest rendering is that he is juxtaposing non-believers against believers.  For him to be juxtaposing believers against believers would be repetitive at best.

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I would use similar argumentation for the other passages presented.  In context and at their plainest meaning Christ died for all.  To me, to read passages like this another way smacks of the hand stands and back flips I remember SDA doing on passages like Col 2:16.

Here is the problem some like to present though, if Christ died for all does it not also follow that nobody is going to hell?  Does this mean you have to be a universalist?  Read this passage one more time, I’ve highlighted a different section in verse 6.

“3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” 1 Tim 2:3-6 ESV

Notice above that God desires all to be saved and has given himself as a ransom for all.  It would not be logical to assume that Paul was flipping categories in this one line of thought.  The same all in verse 4 is the same all in verse 6. However we see in other passages that some people do go to hell.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. ….’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:41-46 ESV

 

The debt has been paid for all, no blood was spared on the cross. The manner in which we receive this gift is where I would draw the distinction, not in who it was shed for. Man receives faith as a gift via means of grace.

Regarding means of grace, below are a few posts I have written that I believe lay out that claim Biblically, I don’t want to re-do the work here. Be advised that each of these rely on posts that precede them so if these are all new concepts for you then be prepared for a long study that took me years to work out.

 

Faith

Grace

Justification

 

Final Thoughts

 

I agree with Objective Justification because I think it’s the plainest way of understanding all of these texts. God has paid the price for everyone. A full pardon exists for everyone even though God knew full and well before he created anyone who will receive it and who would not. We receive that pardon by grace through means.

Why?  I don’t care I just want to believe what’s true….

What does this change?  This isn’t just a thought doctrine, it changes the kinds of words you’re comfortable using or not comfortable with.  For example, I would have no problem saying “Christ died for everyone” or that he “paid it all”.  I would not agree with the notion that he only died for the elect.  I simply distinguish between sin being paid for and forgiveness being received.  All sin was paid for on the cross, and forgiveness is received in word and sacrament.

 

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Original Sin: The Curse on Men and Women

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In this post I want to discuss the curse placed on men and women at the fall.  For an older post only on Original Sin please click HERE.

Throughout history there is a broad distinction between men and women as it pertains to production and distribution.  I think there is a tie in to scripture on this and I want to explore that idea.  Also I want to address the false approach that many take with regards to the curse.  It’s not primarily a law we fulfill so much as it is a burden placed upon us.

To get started, I’d like to point out that the curse of the fall spreads out to all humanity.  It wasn’t something that God just placed on Adam and Eve.  Simply stated, if your flesh can die then you are impacted by the curse.

‘Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned- for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. ‘ Romans 5:12-14 NASB

The Curse on Man

‘Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:17-19 NASB

 

The mistake that I think gets made by many is to read the curse in Genesis 3 as prescriptive rather than descriptive.  The curse isn’t something you have to follow for it to be true.  It’s a curse that’s placed upon you.  In this case, the curse on man is we have to work to survive.

If you don’t do that you will die.  Not only this, but the planet itself that presumably once was designed to work for you is now working against you.  Nature itself has been refashioned into a weapon that works against your own survival and those you provide for.  Although there are implications for everyone else, God certainly intended man to bear this curse as evidence by the laws given for men to follow.  For an exposition on that I recommend my post titled “Gender Roles“.  By design, curse, and rule the intent was for man to bear production.

The way I see it, even with a first world context after the cross this curse is still as much a reality as it ever was.  By his grace God has permitted means by which we can mitigate some of this curse, but such things only prove the existence of the curse by their necessity.  By nature of the fact that we even wish to mitigate it means we concede to its existence and burden.

Should a man be lazy and not provide for his family ultimately the curse works against him in his own bloodline.  If your family doesn’t thrive the results are self evident, in the most extreme case you end up being the last leaf or close to it on your family tree.  Family is the only thing you take with you to heaven so the results of such sins are eternal even if you don’t go to hell.

The Curse on Woman

‘To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”‘ Genesis 3:16 NASB

This is the one that gets quoted by feminists left, right, and center for why they don’t agree with the Bible.  According to this analysis I found online Patriarchy and Women’s Subordination: A Theoretical Analysis (Pages 3-6) it appears that feminists generally agree that patriarchy predates recorded human history.

“According to the radical feminists (Brownmiller 1976, Firestone 1974), patriarchy preceded private property. They believe that the original and basic contradiction is between the sexes and not between economic classes. Radical feminists consider all women to be a class. Unlike the traditionalists, however, they do not believe that patriarchy is natural or that it has always existed and will continue to do so.” – Pg 5

It goes without saying that if you believe something to be older than private property then you believe it is going to be very old indeed.  She likely considers this older than a Christian would the time of Abraham for example.

“According to Lerner (1989), patriarchy was not one event but a process developing over a period of almost 2500 years (from approximately 3100 BC to 600 BC) and a number of factors and forces that were responsible for the establishment of male supremacy as we see it today. Gerda Lerner (1989), begins by emphasizing the importance of women history in women’s struggle against patriarchy and for equality. According to her, patriarchy, in fact, preceded the formation of private property and class society.” – Pg 6

They tend to have a wide array of theories as to how “the patriarchy” came to be if you read the rest of the document.  The notion of such things going back to creation or coming from God would be antithetical to their beliefs so I wouldn’t expect them to actually go in that direction.  However, I would simply like to point out that Genesis 3:16 seems to offer an explanation consistent with their observations of a pre-historic patriarchy.

What do I mean by that?  I mean that God said man would rule over woman as a curse and that this reality has colored all of human history.  Such things have not been limited by time period or geography and any exceptions I’ve seen offered only prove the rule rather than contradicting it.

So by nature of the fact that secular feminists spill so much ink and energy fighting “the patriarchy? means that by their actions they concede that the curse is a reality even if they don’t internally agree on the mechanism.  How I see it, even if they succeed in mitigating that curse after the cross with the sword of government and first world conveniences all they would prove is that God’s grace has permitted a societal context where some effects of the curse can be at least temporarily mitigated.

If a woman flees from this curse, like man the punishment is received in her very bloodline.  Bearing children is a particular work of a woman’s calling.  A failure to procreate is a very definitive end to your line on this earth.  And that is a self evident curse on anyone whether or not they agree with it.  A good example of this would be the Shakers,  as of 2017 there are only two living at this time.  That at least is an effective case study on what happens when a group of people adhering to a tradition cease to breed.  Before too long they cease to exist.

 

Conclusion

 

Just wrapping up these ideas and putting the pieces together what strikes me is that those who carry their curse burden head on seem to evade the more permanent consequences.

What do I mean by that?  I mean that a man who produces and a woman who distributes is more likely to have a healthy family that passes down to the next generation.  They have plenty of plates around the table and lots of stockings over the fireplace at Christmas.  They have someone to care for them when they are old, remember them when they are gone, and to share memories with in heaven.  Those who flee the curse are cut off by nature in whole or in part.  I just find that to be a compelling and fearful idea.

Does this mean it is wrong for a woman to work and provide for her family too?  No I don’t think so.  Like I said at the outset, the curse should be read descriptively not prescriptively.  In these cases I just think that means she is choosing to bear both curses.  That would explain why many women who choose to do this are burdened with the stress of racing their biological clock as they establish their career.  These women have my sympathy and admiration in such cases, not my scorn.

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Clint Eastwood Reads Praise Song Lyrics: Lutheran Satire

This video is amazing, check it out when you get a chance.  You wont be disappointed.

 

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Children attacked by “She Bears”

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This is one of the stories in the old testament that tends to get left out of sunday school story time.  I got to hear it when I was in the 8th grade though because I decided to tease my teacher for his baldness.  He told me to cut it out or I might get attacked by a she bear.

Naturally I didn’t know what a she bear was, I found out it was simply King James for female bear.  This is a reference to an old testament story where Elisha was taunted by youths in Bethel for being bald.  He cursed them in the name of the Lord and they were attacked and torn to shreds.

‘Then he [Elisha] went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord . Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number. He went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria. ‘ 2 Kings 2:23-25 NASB

I was not prepared to read that passage at all.  At the time it actually brought me to tears.  My poor teacher tried to contextualize it for me the best that he could.  He pointed out that the text probably isn’t about very young children, and that it was a grave sin to speak ill of a prophet of God.  My teacher wasn’t willing to say that speaking ill of a prophet always deserved such a punishment.  He placed it only in that time and place and assumed other things must have been happening that we don’t know about.

Why?  I don’t know.  I didn’t speak to my teacher any further about the topic and just kinda carried it with me for a while.

The teaching I grew up with was that God is always loving.  Not a great deal of care was placed into how exactly love is defined.  Generally, the practice was to define love in whatever terms it meant to you personally and then view God on those terms.  Love was this squishy word that kinda meant whatever you want it to.  Thus in practice your god was this squishy idea who is whoever you want him to be.  My god certainly would never send bears to eat someone just because they called a guy bald!  I had an idol and I didn’t know that was what I was actually dealing with.  The bible had profaned my idol and I was upset.

God is Holy and perfect, and the Bible defines his Wrath as a stemming from his Holiness.  Sin is not a minor thing to a Holy God.  Just because mean words to a Prophet of God is not something we consider to be that bad doesn’t mean it’s equally nothing to God.  He views sin through his eyes not ours, and accordingly punishes sin according to his degree of measurement.  If you don’t see what those youths did as deserving of being mauled by a bear then that only reveals how warped and sinful your thinking is.

Maybe they were covered under the old testament sacramental system and had received faith from God.  Maybe they are in heaven right now.  I don’t know, this passage doesn’t give those kinds of details.  However what we do see is Christological typology.  Jesus does tell us to look for him in the old testament.

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” John 5:39 NASB

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” Luke 24:27 NASB

What I see from that perspective is that these kids sinned.  And that sin is greater in the eyes of God than it is in mine.  It is so great a sin that it deserves eternal torment in hell.  What we see is that God judges them with having their flesh torn apart just as one day he would do to his own son for our sake.

The clearest way the Love of God has ever been expressed is in what he did for us on the cross.  He bore the wrath, having his flesh torn apart for our sins.  Instead of us suffering as we deserve Jesus has suffered for us, and this old testament event is given to us to show us what we deserve, and what punishment has been taken for us by Christ.

Posted in Armchair Lounge, Difficult Passages | 1 Comment

Andy Stanley: Unhitching the Old Testament

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Andy Stanley is a very famous preacher in the seeker sensitive movement.  Recently he has taken some bad press for what some perceive to be an attack on the Old Testament.

In my opinion, I think he views the Old Testament as most Christians do the apocrypha or didache.  That is, a non-canonical source that contains some truth but isn’t the Word of God.  But then again, he has made some statements that walk this back so I’m not 100% sure if I’m getting him wrong or if he is deliberately attempting to obfuscate.

His aim seems to be two fold, on one end he doesn’t want to have to apologetically defend old testament stories like creation and Jonah.  On the other end he doesn’t want to use old testament categories and terminology to define sins condemned by the apostles.

Either way I don’t agree with his statements.  I think we should trust that God will fulfill his promises and that his word doesn’t return void.  Preach the Word and stand aside as God does his work in it.  Don’t trip about having to explain Jonah or creation.  God has promised to give faith when his word is preached.  If their heart is hardened after rejecting the Word it’s not your fault.  If they need apologetics later that’s fine, but doing apologetics is preaching law and shouldn’t be confused with gospel.

As far as using old testament terminology is concerned, later in this post I am going to argue that if you don’t do this you turn the Bible into whatever you want it to say and it loses all objective authority on law.

In one of his more recent sermons though he decided to use Acts 15 as a means to “unhitch” the old testament from Christianity.  Those were his words, he chose to walk them back but he didn’t take them back either.  I encourage you read both articles.  My understanding is that he views the laws given in Acts 15 as a prescriptive and descriptive lock stock and barrel replacement of the old testament.

 

Stanley 5/11/18

Stanley 5/18/18

Stanley 1 Stanley 2

 

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The first thing I would want to point out is that Paul held a high regard for the Old Testament.  When he wrote the passage below he would have certainly had old testament scriptures in mind.

“16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness 2 Tim 3:16 ESV

Reproof? Correction? Instruction in righteousness?  That is an odd way of saying we should unhitch ourselves if you ask me.  If you read an older article I have HERE you will see that the apostles frequently cite old testament passages to prove that Jesus is the messiah.  If we are to unhitch ourselves wouldn’t that be an odd approach for proving Jesus is the messiah?  If realizing this was purely experiential why did they cite the old testament so much?

As with most things though, and to be fair, Andy Stanley isn’t 100% wrong.  There is a certain sense in which we don’t use Old Testament laws anymore.  The sabbath for example, and other such ceremonial laws, are stated by scripture to be obsolete.

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” Heb 8:13 ESV

That said, we find many places in the new covenant where the apostles prescriptively teach laws that are also taught in the old covenant.  A good example of this is the commandment not to commit murder.

“9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Rom 13:9 ESV

“15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.” 1 Ptr 4:15 ESV

We can see that the apostles clearly teach after the cross that you shouldn’t commit murder. This is taught well into the new covenant after the cross.

Here’s the deal though, what’s murder???

Is murder simply killing like stepping on a spider?  Does it only apply to people?  Is capital punishment murder? Is it murder when a solider kills another human in a time of war?  Is abortion murder?  What is the Biblical definition of murder??

Though the apostles do condemn murder, they never define it on their own.  The definition comes from the Torah.  One can be reasonably certain those receiving the apostles letters had a copy of the Septuagint on account of the fact that the apostles quote it so frequently, and would have been familiar with it’s teachings and categories.

Also, one can reasonably assume that because the apostles quote the Septuagint frequently that they have knowledge of it too.  Thus when they cite sins like “murder” they would have intended old covenant categories and definitions of it.

It’s not enough to pull the meaning of a word from a modern dictionary, particularly when you are talking about writings that are 2000 years old.  You have to define the word by what the author intended.  Without using the old testament as a Go-To you can’t define murder at all.  Your interpretation of the apostles commands not to murder would be solely dependent on your own personal opinion.

Same issue with sexual immorality for example.  This one is a bit easier due to Jesus restrictions placed in Matt 19 but Lev 18 and others flesh the details out in ways that are particularly helpful today.  Andy Stanley even cites sexual immorality in his sermon on Act 15 and unsurprisingly leaves it soley up to personal interpretation.

In my opinion he is setting himself up for the big reveal on being pro LGBT at some point here in the future.  Time will prove me right or wrong on that.  But the approach that I see Andy Stanley using would be very expedient for embracing the “Gay Christian” movement promoted by Matthew Vines and others today.  If sexual immorality is only a matter of personal conscience then in every practical manner it’s whatever you say it is for you.

The correct way of understanding the Torah as obsolete is in a prescriptive sense.  My understanding of Andy Stanley is that he doesn’t want it to be used in a definitive sense either.  This approach is not Biblical.  The reason is because the apostles clearly use and cite the old testament frequently, and because if you don’t use it definitively the apostles teachings lose all clarity.  The new testament becomes completely open to interpretation and any teachings derived would be unfalsifiable.

“16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness 2 Tim 3:16 ESV

How could you authoritatively reprove someone for choosing to murder if you can’t define the word?  How could you correct someone who has a false understanding?  How could you train someone if their interpretation is just as good as yours?  Paul’s teaching here in Timothy would simply be false if the Torah cannot be used in a definitive sense.

Conclusion

I understand that believing in creation or Jonah and the whale are not popular teachings to hold to these days.  I also don’t care.  We shouldn’t abandon scripture because people want to poke fun.  The faith God gives us is real and sufficient for believing things that we cannot presently prove to be true.

If someone won’t embrace Christianity because of Jonah it’s a faith issue not an intellectual one.  If we believe someone receives faith as a gift from God (Eph 2:8) when the Word of God is preached (Rom 10:17) then that should be our approach to addressing their obstacle.  If they need a little help with some apologetic argumentation for the sake of their intellect that’s fine too.

However, when you throw out the Word of God to replace the apologetic you remove the actual solution to the faith issue.  In the end, you won’t save the church doing that, you will just have a goat entertainment center.  Which in my estimation is what Any Stanley is selling.

 

Posted in Armchair Lounge, Heresy & Heterodoxy | Tagged | 4 Comments

Where is the Armchair Theologian?

This brief post is to give an update to those who follow my blog.  I have not been posting as much as I used to.  This blog has helped me personally a great deal.  Since starting it out I have learned how to think in ways that I simply couldn’t before.

Part of that process is holding everything I post to a certain personal standard.  In leaving adventism I found a certain way of reading the scriptures.  A process that is objective and falsifiable.  For me this was a new experience and I try to write everything to that standard.  Though I have alot of ideas bouncing around in my head that I would love to blog on, I won’t put it here if I don’t feel I can follow that methodology.  It’s my own personal rule.

Since then, I have scratched most of my itches theologically speaking.  I will keep blogging from time to time.  In the near future I plan on writing for a team called the Messed up Church.  I will keep my same process, but will stick to topics that I can personally demonstrate from clear scripture.  I think there is a place on the internet for laity like me to do this and I want to be a part of that.

From time to time I will still post a theological statement or even a series.  You just wont see those as often as you used to.  The blog isn’t going anywhere though.  I still get messages from current and former adventists who read my older posts, and new lutherans who have found the others.  I will keep the domain and all these posts online for people to find.

God Bless

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What is a Sacrament?

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When I first started studying Lutheran theology I had barely heard the word “sacrament” in my life. It’s not a term that comes up in american culture or Protestantism in general very frequently. It certainly wasn’t a point of discussion in Adventism.  While I have covered the sacraments in my entry on Justification, with this post I want to dig a bit further back into the Bible and cover the old testament too.

This post will be building on concepts and Biblical teachings that I have presented in the past. For the sake of space I will not be repeating myself, so if you are just as unfamiliar with the term as I was then I recommend reading the following posts first.  Also, I will be linking to them in places that I think might be relevant to the reader.

Where does the word Sacrament come from?

 

The word Sacrament actually has it’s root in the Latin Biblical texts. Anytime the word we would use for “mystery” in the Bible would come up Jerome translated it as “sacramentum” in the Vulgate.

 

“32 sacramentum hoc magnum est ego autem dico in Christo et in ecclesia 33 verumtamen et vos singuli unusquisque suam uxorem sicut se ipsum diligat uxor autem ut timeat virum” Ephesians 5:32-33 Latin Vulgate

“32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Ephesians 5:32:33 KJV

 

My point is the Church got the word from reading the Bible, it’s not just made up out of thin air. Just like some Christians like to use the word “rapture” instead of “harpazo” many today like to use the word “sacrament”.  That said, even though it does technically appear in the Bible the word sacrament is used more as a theological term than anything else.  Like saying “Trinity” or “Original Sin“.  Such terms refer to broad themes and teachings in scripture.

 

What does Sacrament mean then?

 

The best definition of the word is one that is based on scripture. Whether you are hot or cold to the use of the word, there are times in scripture when God uses a physical thing to deliver heavenly blessings to his people. If you are more comfortable with another word than sacrament then go for it, I’m gonna stick with it though.

 

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. ‘ Numbers 21:8-9 KJV

 

Above we see an example of an old covenant sacrament. Notice that Moses is commanded to hold up a brass snake for everyone to look at. When they look upon the physical object in front of them they receive a blessing from heaven.

 

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This is one of my favorite examples of an old testament sacrament because Jesus even uses it to point straight to the cross, which we receive in the Eucharist. There’s more though.

 

“And he shall do with the bullock as he did with the bullock for a sin offering, so shall he do with this: and the priest shall make an atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them.” Leviticus 4:20 KJV

 

“And the bullock for the sin offering, and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall one carry forth without the camp; and they shall burn in the fire their skins, and their flesh, and their dung. … For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.” Leviticus 16:27,30 KJV

 

“And one kid of the goats, to make an atonement for you.” Numbers 28:30 KJV

 

Read above, the goat isn’t a symbolic goat. Neither is the bullock, they are real physical earthly ordinary things. The atonement the people were receiving though was also real but from heaven. In this God used a physical thing to deliver something heavenly to his people. Hebrews even clarifies that the sacrifices themselves have no power.

 

“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” Hebrews 10:4 KJV

 

I don’t think that Moses was wrong in Leviticus when he said the Israelite’s received forgiveness from the blood of bulls and goats.  Instead, I would argue that it is what God delivered to his people in with and under the sacrifice that forgave their sins. Just as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in with and under the sacrament from 2000 years ago, so to did the old covenant Jews receive the body and blood of Christ in with and under the sacrifice of bulls and goats.

I simply agree with the likes of Martin Luther and St. Augustine in how a sacrament is to be understood.

 

Accedat verbum ad sacramentum ad elementum et fit sacramentum” which means that ‘when the Word is added to the element or the natural substance, it becomes a sacrament,’ that is, a holy, divine thing and sign.” Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, Fourth Part: Baptism, sections 17-18, in The Book of Concord

“Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Why does He not say, You are clean through the baptism wherewith you have been washed, but through the word which I have spoken unto you, save only that in the water also it is the word that cleanses? Take away the word, and the water is neither more nor less than water. The word is added to the element, and there results the Sacrament, as if itself also a kind of visible word. For He had said also to the same effect, when washing the disciples’ feet, He that is washed needs not, save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit. And whence has water so great an efficacy, as in touching the body to cleanse the soul, save by the operation of the word; and that not because it is uttered, but because it is believed? For even in the word itself the passing sound is one thing, the abiding efficacy another. This is the word of faith which we preach, says the apostle, that if you shall confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:10 Accordingly, we read in the Acts of the Apostles, Purifying their hearts by faith; Acts 15:9 and, says the blessed Peter in his epistle, Even as baptism does also now save us, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience. This is the word of faith which we preach, whereby baptism, doubtless, is also consecrated, in order to its possession of the power to cleanse. For Christ, who is the vine with us, and the husbandman with the Father, loved the Church, and gave Himself for it. And then read the apostle, and see what he adds: That He might sanctify it, cleansing it with the washing of water by the word. Ephesians 5:25-26 The cleansing, therefore, would on no account be attributed to the fleeting and perishable element, were it not for that which is added, by the word. This word of faith possesses such virtue in the Church of God, that through the medium of him who in faith presents, and blesses, and sprinkles it, He cleanses even the tiny infant, although itself unable as yet with the heart to believe unto righteousness, and to make confession with the mouth unto salvation. All this is done by means of the word, whereof the Lord says, Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” – St. Augustine, Tractate 80 (John 15:1-3)

 

To sum it up, God has chosen to convey his grace to us by means, a concept I have broken down in my post on Justification , grace, and faith.  Some of those means of grace that he uses are conveyed by physical elements.  In the Lord’s Supper we receive faith, the forgiveness of sins in his body and blood, delivered in with and under the elements of bread and wine.  In Baptism we receive faith, the forgiveness of sins delivered in the water combined with the word.

 

 

Just Baptism and Communion? What about the other five sacraments?

 

The Roman Catholic Church (and others) teach a total of seven (7) sacraments.  They are listed below:

Baptism.

Eucharist.

Confirmation.

Reconciliation.

Anointing of the sick.

Marriage.

Holy orders.

Lutherans would agree that the first two on that list are sacraments.  Confirmation is practiced and is certainly a good thing.  Even evangelical churches do it (technically) they are just usually less organized about it.  Yes, through the preaching of the word (if it is done) confirmation does give faith by means, but there is no physical element that conveys it.  Same applies for most of the others to be honest.  I do want to address anointing of the sick and marriage though.

 

“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” James 5:14-15 KJV

“Of this unction as a sacrament we find no word in Scriptures. The anointing of which James speaks in this passage, cp. Mark 6, 13, was an extraordinary means used in the early Church for the miraculous healing of bodily ailments. This anointing was not done in preparing the sick person for a blessed death, but for the purpose of healing; the forgiveness of sins is not ascribed to the oil, but to the prayer of faith.” Kretzmann Commentaries

 

On the face of it we do see how this could be seen as a sacrament.  You have a physical element, and you have a blessing of heaven.  But you don’t have God giving that blessing via the element.  Notice in this case there is a prayer of faith.  I think it could be read as a sacrament if there were other scripture tying receiving faith to the anointing of oil.  But we don’t have that in this case, since the scripture is silent there, we should be as well.

What about marriage though?  The theology nerds reading my blog probably noticed that to justify the biblical origin of the word “sacrament” I used a verse in which Paul refers to marriage as a great “sacramentum”.  Which is of course why I clarified that I am using it like I do words like “Trinity”.  It’s a theological term.

 

“32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Ephesians 5:32:33 KJV

 

Why is marriage not a sacrament?  Simply because there is no physical element to it.  One could call it a sacramental union, that’s fine.  But biblically speaking the word sacrament wouldn’t be the best one when employed with the definition I am using.

To be fair I don’t think a Roman Catholic would argue that all 7 of the sacraments they teach entail a physical element.  They would likely just say that they define the word sacrament differently than we do.  Which is common, most denominations tend to define it a bit differently.

All seven of those things, in one manner or another, are certainly things that the christian church does.  And people do receive faith one way or another as they are done.  So really the difference does come down to the underlying theology.  For example, Lutheran ministers will still perform marriages and anoint the sick.  They just won’t refer to the act as a sacrament when they do it or theologically classify it that way.

 

Conclusion

 

Why does God use physical elements to give faith to people?  In my opinion, I believe it is for our assurance.  God is perfectly capable of giving us faith by the preaching of his word (Rom 10:17).  There is however a subjectivity in our mind of interpreting and remembering such events that is just going to be there.

Did I really hear the preacher? 

Did I really mean what I felt? 

Was my decision for Jesus decisive enough?

What if I was distracted?

Of course we shouldn’t worry about such things, but I think God knows we will because of the weaknesses of the flesh.  So, I would argue he has given us the sacraments in part to mitigate doubt or insecurity.  I know I was baptized, I remember how the water felt, there were witnesses.  They even gave me a piece of paper to prove it.  That’s my opinion, take is as you will.

Even if that’s not the true reason the why is less important than the what.  The “what” is that God has promised to deliver faith to us by means.  So logically we should go wherever that is.  See you at church next Sunday.

Posted in Armchair Lounge, Soteriology | Tagged | 1 Comment

Why doesn’t anyone go to church anymore?

People in church

Ask anyone over the age of 50 and they will tell you that everyone used to go to church.  You didn’t ask people if they went to church, you asked them which one they went to.  It was as simple as that.  If you didn’t go then there was something wrong with you.  It’s fair to ask why?  Why doesn’t anyone go to church anymore?  A very large church recently put out the question and got some feedback.    I have posted the photos below:

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I do find it somewhat ironic that most of the posters get a little “judgey” about how “judgmental” they believe Christians are.  I don’t know if they see the contradiction in their reasoning, but even if they don’t, I don’t think they are telling the whole truth anyways.

In this post I am going to answer the question Biblically.  My source, besides scripture, is a nice video put out by Lutheran Satire.  I will be presenting most of the same passages that they did.  Their video is linked at the bottom if you want to watch it.

The real reason people don’t go to church anymore stems from original sin, they  simply hate Jesus. Nothing has really changed over the past generations.  The only thing we have lost is the social pressure that used to exist for people to go to church.  Not only is that gone but it’s actually starting to swing the other way.  Right now we are just seeing more clearly what has always been there.

 

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” John 15:18‭-‬19 NASB

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 NASB

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11‭-‬12 NASB

“Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.” John 10:25‭-‬26 NASB

“And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” Colossians 1:21 NASB

 

The unbeliever is hostile to God in their very mind.  They don’t want to be around the body of Christ.  Why would they?  They hate him.  Why would one want to spend more time with someone they hate?

An unbeliever doesn’t need you to change your worship style to make them happy.  The only thing that is going to make them happy is if you throw out Jesus altogether.  Not so coincidentally this is what the “seeker sensitive” crowd actually does.  When you do this though you end up entertaining goats instead of converting people though.  It solves the problem of low attendance, but it does it in ways that quite simply just aren’t relevant to why you want higher attendance in the first place.

We need pastors that preach the word in and out every week.  People need to be condemned by the law and risen by the gospel.  That way no matter if there is 10 people in your service or 1000 they are at least believers.

 

“And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” Matthew 13:23 NASB

“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,” Ephesians 1:13 NASB

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17 NASB

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19‭-‬20 NASB

 

Below is the video I promised along with another that I think is relevant.  Both are short and fun to watch.

 

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