The Unchanging Word

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” Isaiah 40:8 (NASB).  This is my favorite verse of scripture in the Bible.  I find God’s Word comforting and to be a place of refuge in the midst of changing times.  And times are changing as we have witnessed during these last several years in the upheaval of Global economics, changes that for good or ill are continuing.  What does the future hold?  Where will these changes lead us?

While I take comfort in the unchanging truth in God’s Word during these changing times, the critic would intone, there is no God.  He would say a belief in an immutable God whose word stands forever is ridiculous and without evidence.

I have often said there is a difference between faith and blind faith.  I have said as well that faith will always be a necessary ingredient in the Christian life and absolute proof regarding matters of faith are not always to be found.  But God has not left us completely in the dark.

A criticism commonly levied by skeptics against the trustworthiness of the Bible is, after several millennia of transcription and translation how do we know the Scriptures are accurately preserved?  How do we know what God said then is what we read now?  Among Bible scholars this is known as the issue of textual corruption due to the long period of transmission.

Before addressing this argument in the main, I wish to make what should be a salient point.  It is only natural to assume that any written work if copied over and over again for 3500 years (the first 3000 by hand) and translated from one language to another should contain a multitude of mistakes.  If, on the other hand, that same work can be shown to be remarkably free of error and transcribed with uncommon exactitude, then one must assume God not only inspired such a work but also played an active role in preserving it.

In the twenty-second chapter of Matthew beginning in verse twenty-three, the Sadducees confront Jesus.  They do not believe in the resurrection and relate an experience they believe disproves it.  They tell the story of a woman who successively married seven brothers.  She married the first, and when he died she married the next, and he died and so on, until she had married them all, they had all died, and then she died also.  The Sadducees asked, whose wife of the seven will she be?  They had wrongly assumed that temporal relationships established on earth would become confused in the eternal setting of the resurrection.

The Sadducees thought they had constructed a clever argument against the resurrection.  Jesus explains their point is not valid; there are no marriages in heaven.  But he goes on to show that they need not rely solely on His own testimony about relationships in heaven.

Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6 where God speaks to Moses and declares, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” and offers the following interpretation, “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

Jesus’ argument is this, when God spoke to Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been dead for over 400 years.  Yet, God referred to them in the present tense, “I am.”  If God is referring to them in the present tense, even if their bodies are dead, their spirits are in some sense resurrected, alive and in His care.  This use of grammar to understand and explain the meaning of a passage of Scripture was a recognized interpretive method that silenced the Sadducees.

Follow me carefully.  Moses wrote Exodus and the rest of the Pentateuch circa 1500 years before Christ in Hebrew.  The rest of the Old Testament canon followed and was translated into Greek about 200 B.C. and become known as the Septuagint.  Jesus’ works and words are recorded in the Gospels and are joined by the rest of the New Testament during the first century A.D., which is also written in Greek.  In the fourth century Jerome translates the Bible into Latin.  Many of the early English translations can find their origins in the Latin Vulgate.  Since the King James Version of the Bible was printed, the English language has undergone at least five revisions.  Modern versions of the English Bible are translated from the best Hebrew and Greek texts available.

Here is my point.  After 3500 years of transcription, translation, and language revisions the tense of a verb has not changed.  If it had Jesus’ reasoning regarding the resurrection would have been inscrutable.

When skeptics assailed the scriptures, the French Huguenots would offer this poetic response, “Hammer away ye hostile hands; your hammer breaks, God’s anvil stands.”

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Connecting the Dots

Dinesh D’Souza was born in Bombay, India, to catholic parents.  He was schooled by Jesuits at Saint Stanislaus High School.  He would later come to America as an exchange student.  While here in America it appears he was introduced to Reformation theology and embraced it.  He now claims to be a non-denominational Christian.  He is the author of the book The Root of Obama’s Rage on which the movie Obama’s America: 2016 is based.

Probably in response to his religious upbringing, D’Souza became very conservative in his political views and served as an advisor in the Ronald Reagan Administration.  His views on social issues are equally conservative.  He has risen to celebrity status on the debate trail as an apologist championing the Christian worldview on a number of issues.  He has debate and earned the respect of well-know atheist Christopher Hitchens.

D’Souza was appointed president of The King’s College in New York City on August 23, 2010, by the board of trustees.  The King’s College is a Christian liberal arts college that is located in the financial district of New York City.  Founder of Campus Crusade for Christ Dr. Bill Bright was instrumental in helping The King’s College overcome its financial debts and reinvigorate the school.

When D’Souza moved from California to take up residency in New York to assume his responsibilities as the new president, his wife Dixie stayed behind in California.  That should have been a clue to the board that something was not quite right in the D’Souza household.  That clue unfortunately found fruition recently.

On September 28, 2012, D’Souza was one of several speakers at a conference in Spartanburg, S. C. defending the Christian worldview and how to make the Christian faith applicable to daily life.  He was in the company of a young woman named Denise Odie Joseph II.  Later when one of the event organizers, Tony Beam, transported the two to a hotel they appeared to check into the same room.  The next morning when he returned to escort D’Souza back to the conference, he called D’Souza’s room and he replied, “We’ll be down in ten minutes.”

When another conference organizer Alex McFarland learned the next day of D’Souza’s behavior he called him and asked if he had stayed in the same room with his fiancé.  D’Souza purportedly admitted they had shared a room but “nothing happened.” He further admitted they were engaged and when McFarland asked if he had filed for divorce from his wife of twenty years, D’Souza replied he had “recently.”

Court records showed he filed for divorce on October 4, 2012, after the conference was over, but he maintained the filing had been in the works weeks prior.  When asked how he could be engaged to another woman while still married to his wife, D’Souza said he had consulted an attorney and it was legal.  His answer showed he was oblivious to Christian beliefs about marriage.  After the news broke on October 16, 2012, D’Souza commented the next day, “I had no idea that it is considered wrong in Christian circles to be engaged prior to being divorced.”

Focus on the Family marriage expert and family formation studies Glenn Stanton said, “It’s disappointing that he was interested in the legal standpoint but not in the Christian standpoint.”  Tony Beam said, “It certainly surprises me.  I mean I certainly would think that if you’ve been in conservative evangelical circles … that you would, at some point, kind of pick up on the idea that announcing an engagement to a woman when you are still legally married to another woman would be a problem.”

When these events became known to the board of trustees a telephone conference was held with D’Souza and the board members.  On October 18, 2012, D’Souza resigned as president of The King’s College.  He says Joseph and he are “trying to do the right thing” and have decided to suspend their engagement.  Board chairman and now interim president Andy Mills said they are praying for D’Souza.

It seems incredible that a man as intelligent as D’Souza could be so ignorant about the Christian doctrine on traditional marriage when he has defended it from same-sex marriage assaults.  It seems just as incredible that the board of trustees would vouchsafe the presidency of The King’s College to a man who apparently had unresolved marital problems from the outset.  But we are all human and mistakes are made.

Someone should have connected the dots.  That being said let us heed the words of Paul, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted (Galatians 6:1).”

The Other Side

Recently a neurosurgeon and Harvard Medical School professor claims to have been to the other side.  Dr. Eben Alexander who claimed to be a nominal Christian now claims to have had a near-death experience.  He is now saying “that heaven is indeed real.”

During the fall of 2008 Dr. Alexander had contracted a very rare form of bacterial meningitis.  It was a type that usually attacks newborn babies.  The E. coli bacteria had begun to eat away at his brain.  As his neocortex shut down he slipped into a coma.  For a week his brain had ceased to function.  From a medical standpoint he should have been incapable of any kind of conscious activity; he should have died.  Yet on that seventh day something happened.

While his physical state should have made it impossible to sense anything, he claims to have undergone a “hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey.”  As he ascended from this world in the company of a female companion they traveled above “big, puffy, pink-white” clouds where he saw “transparent, shimmering beings arced across the sky, leaving long, streamer like lines behind them.”

He was able to communicate with his escort in a manner “that transcended language.”  They rode together on the wing of a butterfly surrounded by millions of butterflies as he heard these transparent beings chant “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.  You have nothing to fear.  There is nothing you can do wrong.”  He was introduced to “an immense void, completely dark, infinite in size, yet also infinitely comforting” and he took this void to be the home of God.

Dr. Alexander quickly admits there will be skeptics, “had someone-even a doctor-told me a story like this in the old days, I would have been quite certain that they were under the spell of some delusion.”  Nevertheless, he has written a book based on his experience entitled Proof of Heaven: A neurosurgeon’s journey into the afterlife.  The book is scheduled for publishing in late October.

Obviously I have not read the book, but one of my first thoughts is, how does Dr. Alexander hope to prove objectively what was a very subjective experience?  I do not doubt that his experience is very real to him, but how is the skeptic world to determine in any objective sense whether his experience is real or as he has already suggested the product of a delusion?

Before we dismiss Dr. Alexander’s experience completely we might want to consider that this event will be added to a long and growing list that is known as NDEs, near-death experiences.  Though each NDE differs in the specifics they all seem to share a core of commonality.  Those who have experienced an NDE have come back from the dead; have claimed to have received a glimpse of the other side, and have returned in a tranquil state of mind, unafraid of the prospect of death.  These events convey the idea that the afterlife is a place of universal, unconditional acceptance.

That view clashes with the words of Christ, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6).”  Our entrance to heaven is predicated on our relationship with Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice.  To think heaven can be gained apart from Christ is a delusion.

In the final verses (19 through 31) of the sixteenth chapter of Luke we find the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  Each dies and poor Lazarus goes to Abraham’s bosom and is comforted, and the rich man goes to hell.  The rich man asks Abraham to let Lazarus dip his finger in some water and cool his tongue “for I am in agony in this flame (v.24).”  Abraham explains to the rich man this cannot be done.

The rich man then informs Abraham he has five brothers and asks if he could send Lazarus to them to warn them of the reality of hell.  Abraham tells him “They have Moses and the Prophets [the Scriptures]; let them hear them.”  The rich man protests “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!”  Abraham replied, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”

An NDE, someone coming to us from the dead, is more likely to mislead someone rather than persuade them there are two destinations on the other side.  Trusting an NDE will not get you to heaven, it awaits those who repent and trust Christ.

To Preach or not to Preach

I am writing this article on the eve to Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an event that promotes the right of pastors to address political issues and those running for political office.  The event’s website declares, “The future of religious freedom depends on a free pulpit to communicate fundamental biblical principles to congregations across America.  Join a growing movement of bold pastors preaching biblical Truth about candidates and elections from their pulpits on October 7, 2012.”  I didn’t join.  I didn’t need to.

I have not just recently become cognizant of the issues that plague our nation’s moral decline, social disintegration, and spiritual decay.  I have written and preached for years about the issues that have a pestiferous effect on our society.  I have done so because I have a God-ordained responsibility to do so.  How can a pastor say he loves his congregation and withhold the truth regarding self-destructive practices?

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson is credited with having an amendment added to the tax codes that charitable organizations that enjoy tax exempt status are forbidden to “participate in, or intervene in…Any political campaign on behalf of-or in opposition to-any candidate for public office.”  This has been misconstrued as a muzzle to free speech and religious expression.

At this point I am going to make a necessary distinction.  I do not make political endorsements of candidates.  I recall the lesson Billy Graham learned during the Watergate affair.  He had been an unswerving supporter of Richard Nixon throughout the controversy only to eventually discover he had backed a very guilty man.  Graham is purported to have vowed never to endorse a candidate again.  I have learned like Dr. Graham that what people say when they run for a political office is not what they always do once elected.  For this reason I do not endorse candidates.

But when it comes to issues affecting the moral condition and spiritual direction of our nation, I impavidly support biblical principles.  I am not reticent to call attention to what any politician says or does that is in conflict with the word of God.  I do not believe the unborn should be slaughtered on the altar of convenience.  I do not believe the time-honored institution of marriage should be made a mockery by capitulating to whining heterophobes.

If the best our government can do is threaten our tax exempt status because we speak out on these issues, I say, bring it on.  Every pastor should be echoing the words of the apostle Peter to the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men (Acts5:29).”

More rights have been lost in this country by disuse than active assault on our liberties has ever accomplished.  People complain about prayer and Bible reading being taken out of the schools, but has it been taken out of our homes?  Could it be parents failed in their parental responsibility declared in the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 6;7; Ephesians 6:4) and then complain when the school system failed too?  According to the Bible the parents are responsible for the spiritual instruction of their children, not the school system.  If we had been doing our job in the home maybe prayer and Bible reading would still be in our schools.

The same holds true for freedom of speech and religion.  If we want to preserve these freedoms we must maintain them by active practice.  If we lose these liberties it will be because we failed to speak up.  For those who have just now signed up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I say better late than never.  But do not think for an instant that the problems afflicting our nation ballooned overnight, or that our plight has suddenly become dire.  Our nation has been slowly and methodically plodding in the direction of decline, why have you been silent until now?  Do you not love those whom God has given you the spiritual oversight?

Tomorrow pastors across the nation will be deciding what to preach or not to preach.  I will be speaking on some of the future events prophesied in the Scriptures, a branch of theology called eschatology.  This is what I had planned to speak on and see no need to change.  That is because I am not a Johnny-come-lately to the issues confronting our nation.  I have addressed them when they have arisen and will continue to do so.  I pray other pastors will do the same and hope our people take heed.  If not, our future may not be that bright.