A False Hope

In 1857 America for the most part embraced a Judeo-Christian consensus on moral issues.  Regarding marriage, the nation was predominantly monogamous.  So it is no wonder that the Mormon practice of polygamy, they called it plural marriage, was frowned upon by the rest of the country.

     The issue became a political one when pressure was brought to bear on the territory of Utah and its territorial governor Brigham Young to forsake its polygamous practices.  Congress enacted the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act and Abraham Lincoln signed it into law on July 8, 1862 effectively outlawing multiple wives.  Utah resisted complying with the law and was repeatedly denied statehood because of its refusal.  This refusal also threatened the continued existence of the Mormon Church because its assets and properties were subject to confiscation under federal law.

     Then during the night of September 23, 1890, Mormon Church president and Prophet Wilford Woodruff had a revelatory experience in which he claims he struggled with the Lord, God showed him what the church and Utah needed to do.  He said Mormons should comply with federal law and discontinue the practice of polygamy.  It became known as the 1890 Manifesto.  This “revelation” paved the way to statehood with Utah becoming the 45th state admitted to the Union on January 4, 1896.

     The history of the Mormon Church and its continued beliefs and practices place it far outside the teachings of orthodox Christianity, despite Mormon claims to the contrary.

     Imagine my surprise when I learned that Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary delivered a message entitled A Clear and Present Danger: Religious Liberty, Marriage, and the Family in the Late Modern Age at the academic and religious center of Mormonism, Brigham Young University.  The question in my mind is what did Dr. Mohler expect to gain by addressing the seat of Mormon academia?  Mormonism is not a Christian sect, but is a cult in direct doctrinal opposition to traditional Christianity.

     In his address Mohler confirms these doctrinal differences.  Dr. Mohler stated, “I am not here because I believe we are going to heaven together.  I do not believe that.”  He follows that remark with a clear statement of conviction “in Christ and in his substitutionary atonement for salvation.”  This is a statement in doctrinal conflict with Mormon teaching.  Mohler follows by saying, “I do not believe that we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together.”

     That last statement reveals the intent of Mohler’s message.  We may not believe the same things doctrinally, but we hold common beliefs politically.  We share common ground on religious freedom, marriage, and the family.  Things that could land us in jail together if our respective convictions hold and the culture continues in its headlong flight from God.  His words were meant to enlist the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as an ally in the battle for religious liberty.

     The apostle Paul warns us against making such alliances.  “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” 2 Corinthians 6:14-15.  Here’s why.

     Mormons may claim to believe in conservative family values, but when the Boy Scouts of America opened its membership to homosexuals Southern Baptist churches broke ties with the youth organization, Mormons did not.  When Mitt Romney, a Mormon, ran for the Presidency of the United States against Barack Obama, although he said he was for traditional marriage between one man and one woman, he said he saw no reason why homosexuals could not adopt children.

     While Mormonism is currently opposed to the practice of homosexuality, it also accepts those who claim to be gay and lesbian into church membership as long as they remain celibate.  There are those within the Mormon Church that hold “such susceptibilities are inborn or acquired without personal choice” and “may have some relationship to inheritance.” 

     “Like a bad tooth and an unsteady foot is confidence in a faithless man in time of trouble” Proverbs 25:19.  I believe any thought that Mormons can be trusted as allies in the cultural battle ahead is a false hope, and long before Dr. Mohler shares a jail cell with current Mormon President Thomas S. Monson there will be a new “revelation.”

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A History Lesson

Sometimes we can learn something from the past.  I thought about this as the political stalemate that brought our nation to a partial shutdown of our government was resolved in a last-minute deal.  This is not the first time our nation has faced a political crisis and probably will not be the last, so I thought I would share a history lesson this week.

     In the wake of our victory in the Revolutionary War with England, our founding fathers recognized the Articles of Confederation, which had loosely united the original thirteen colonies, were not an adequate document upon which we could forge a new nation.  Representatives from each of the thirteen colonies gathered at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 25, 1787.  A month later, June 28, 1787, they were close to adjourning in disarray.  Those who had been united in the common cause of liberty now found themselves divided over a number of political issues.

     Benjamin Franklin, then 81 years old, rose to his feet and with permission from the moderator of the convention, George Washington, spoke these words:

     “In the situation of this assembly, groping as it were, in the dark for political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understanding?  In the beginning with the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible to danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection.  Our prayers, Sir, were heard and were graciously answered…

     “I have lived, Sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?  We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”  I firmly believe this; and I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel…

     “I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessings on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one of our clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.”

     They followed Franklin’s wise advice and framed a document known as the Constitution of the United States.  It was prayer that brought agreement.  Benjamin Franklin’s words of yesteryear ring with seeming fresh insight in our current political circumstances.  It seems that we still grope “in the dark for political truth.”

     In a recent interview with CBN News, Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, said, “Nobody, the President, the Senate, the Congress, nobody is saying, let’s call on the name of Almighty God.  Why? Because we’ve taken God out of our government.  We don’t want Him.”  He goes on to say, “Our country is in trouble.  We are in moral decay” because of the “greed and lust” in our hearts.

     Our nation is governed by the representatives we elect.  The sectarian strife we have witnessed recently in Washington cannot be blamed solely on our elected officials.  What we saw was a reflection of the conflict present among us as citizens.  We are a nation divided because we refuse to relinquish what we perceive to be our right to do as we please, to do as we should for the common good, because of the greed and the lust in our own hearts.

     Our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and it was these principles that made us the greatest nation on the face of the earth.  They are the only principles that will keep us great.  The French statesman Alexis de Tocqueville said, “America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

     It is my prayer that Tocqueville’s words do not become prophetic.  The shutdown of government services because of the sectarian stalemate is merely symptomatic of a greater cultural problem.  That problem is spelled out in a Scriptural principle; when men turn their back on God they will begin to turn on one another.

     “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” Psalm 133:1.

AWOL

When I joined the United States Army in June 1970, I was shipped to Fort Jackson, South Carolina just outside the capital of Columbia for basic training.  One of my fellow recruits was a guy I’ll just call by his first name, Edison.  Edison was from Alma, Georgia and according to his account he left behind a young wife and a forty acre farm.  Edison’s enthusiasm for the military life waned quickly, and one evening while we were polishing our boots in the barracks he confided in me he was planning go back to his wife and farm.  I told him, “Edison, this isn’t the Boy Scouts; they’ll come looking for you.”

     In the military when one fails to report for duty and cannot be located he is AWOL, absent without leave.  If the absence was intentional it is punishable with a fine, jail time, or demotion, or any combination thereof.  The military takes it seriously when one takes the oath to defend the Constitution of the United States from “all enemies foreign or domestic.”  I am not sure what Edison was thinking.

     It is not uncommon for a person who has been a member of a church or attends one to be hurt by some incident that happens at church.  While it is much more, the church is in one sense a gathering of people and as such is a social gathering.  And as is the case with any social gathering it is amazingly easy for someone to get offended and their feelings hurt.  Emotions can be especially heightened when the subject matter addresses those things we believe and how we should live in the light of those beliefs.

     The problem is twofold.  I have found some who claim to be Christians capable of saying and doing some of the most thoughtless and insensitive things imaginable.  They seem to ignore Paul’s admonition, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person,” Colossians 4:6.  Christians should be careful and thoughtful in what they say as those who are concerned about others and will give an account (Matthew 12:36).

     Then there are those who have a very high opinion of themselves and the things they believe and do.  They are quick to take offense if anyone questions their practices or intentions.  They are resistant to change, but the Christian faith is all about change.  It is about being transformed into the image of Christ.

     Jesus made it clear that the Gospel itself is offensive.  It requires one to accept or reject His exclusive claims.  As He said, “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30).  So it is to be expected that some will not embrace the Gospel and turn aside to do as they please.  But while the message of the Gospel is offensive in the sense that it requires a decision that is exclusive and demanding, it does not give Christians the right to be offensive in their presentation of the Gospel, or in the way we live and interact with others.

     So where does that leave a Christian who has been offended by someone at church.  He should objectively examine his own behavior and beliefs to see if there is some truth in what was said or done that caused him to be offended, and determine what, if any, corrective action should be taken.  The fellowship and interaction between those within the family of God are elements of the maturation process in becoming more Christ-like.

     But sometimes the offense creates a division, that despite forgiving the other party, harmonious cooperation in furthering the Gospel is impossible.  This happened with Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15:36-41).  Despite the disagreement that parted Barnabas and Paul, they went their separate ways and God blessed the work of both.

     When such a conflict occurs it does not give the offended party a right to go AWOL.  For the Christian, going AWOL is not an option.  If necessary the believer may need to move on and find another place of worship and service, but going AWOL is not permitted.  Baptism is an oath of service.

     In the military when one is AWOL long enough it becomes desertion.  It is much the same in a spiritual sense.  Those who are AWOL from church long enough usually desert the faith.

Ned Bowden and Theistic Evolution

It is a recurring theme in the halls of academia, a professor who believes in God says what he thinks about evolution, and his colleagues create (or should I say evolve into) an uproar.  Ned Bowden, a chemistry professor at the University of Iowa, recently had the temerity to write an article for the university’s website that acknowledged his belief in the existence of God, and his opinion that evolution supports the biblical account of creation.  What Bowden did was like a Christian voluntarily throwing himself to the lions in Nero’s coliseum. 

     Twenty-five of his fellow academicians are crying foul and that is just at the University of Iowa.  But Bowden wrote, “I know some scientists who think we can understand everything in the universe without God.  I know some Christians who think we can understand everything in the universe without science.  They’re both wrong.”

     Ned and I agree here.  Adapting an Albert Einstein quote, I have often said, “Religion without science is blind faith, and science without religion is godless knowledge; mankind can ill afford either.”  So I agree with Bowden that much of the controversy between men of faith and men of science is because each fails to see the compatibility between the two perspectives.

     But when he goes on to claim “it is highly possible that evolution was the tool that God used to bring humans into being” he is beginning to sound like a theistic evolutionist, or what the guys at BioLogos would claim is evolutionary creationism.  Theistic evolution is the view that the Revelation of God’s creative act in Genesis must be syncretized with the theory of evolution.  Evolutionary creationism is the same thing dressed in a different semantic suit.

     I believe theistic evolution is poor science and even poorer theology and here’s why.  Science simply defined is a discipline based upon observation, and since science is not in possession of a single observable fact regarding the beginning of the universe and life, anything science has to say about them is based wholly upon conjecture and supposition.  I will share one example where scientists had the facts of a fossil record, but missed the truth in their speculations.

     Let me reintroduce you to the coelacanth, an ancient fish thought to be extinct since the end of the Cretaceous period, more than 65 million years ago.  Based solely on the fossilized remains, absent the presence of any sarcous material (the soft tissues of the body such as skin, muscles, internal organs, etc., which typically do not survive fossilization) ichthyologists once theorized the coelacanth was an intermediate life form (i.e., missing link) between fish and amphibians.  The coelacanth had three pair of ventral fins fasten to lobes that appeared to be legs beginning to form.  They speculated the coelacanth lived in coastal marshes, could walk on land, and had gills and lungs.

     Then in 1938 a native fisherman caught one in the waters between South Africa and Madagascar.  Ichthyologists’ theories about the coelacanth collapsed faster than a house of cards hit by a leaf blower.  Here is the first and it’s a biggy, the coelacanth is not extinct.  Oops!  In 1988, Hans Fricke working for National Geographic photographed the coelacanth in its natural habitat.  The coelacanth was discovered to be a pelagic, that is, it is a fish that lives in the deep water of the open seas, not in shallow coastal marshes.  Fricke observed (take note of this word observed) the coelacanth swam everywhere it went never attempting to “walk” with its three pair of ventral “limbs” even on the ocean floor.  Further study revealed the coelacanth is a true fish with gills and no lungs.

     Scientists are very good at reporting what they observe, but many times their speculative conclusions are more like science fiction than scientific fact.  Science is the discipline of observation, not speculation.  It is easy to theorize about a dead fossil, but facts revealed by the observation of a living specimen are hard to refute.

     Theistic evolution is poorer theology because it twists the truth of God’s account of creation around a theory incapable of being proved true.  This is why Paul warned Timothy “guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding…the opposing arguments of what is falsely called knowledge…which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith” (2 Timothy 6:20).