You Aren’t Called to Church Activities

Most of us have been in churches that equate being active in the church with being a true Christian. Contrary to this is the view that our duties of love to neighbor imply first and foremost those whom God has put in our path in the ordinary, every day life. For most this is their children when they live in their house. Your job, your commute, these are where you are called to serve. [1]Lutheran Steven Hein puts it well:

Luther depicted a piety of outward works that are devised by the religious opinions of men as Church- yard piety. Monasticism was the contemporary expression of Churchyard piety that Luther condemned as a false and empty piety that burdened consciences and took Christians away from the real tasks in the world that God would have them be about. This was cloistered monasticism. Today, Luther might well counsel the saints to beware of Church body or congregational Churchyard piety, a modern ecclesiastical monasticism that seeks to inundate the church membership with a veritable plethora of programs, activities and organizational events that lack the context of true Christian vocation of sacrificial service in the old world communities of life. Piety as program involvement is pressed on the congregation as the real higher calling of the Christian who is really interested in serving Christ. In some churches, if you are not scheduling life and the use of your gifts according to all of the week’s calendar of events, something is seen as terribly wrong. You have not been assimilated into the regimen of real Christian living. Some congregations are even calling a special pastor in charge of assimilating the membership into all of these super-spiritual events and activities – the Pastor or Director of Assimilation! The thinly veiled message seems to be; “blessed are the involved and assimilated, for they shall inherit the Kingdom of God.” Activism in works that do not flow from one’s vocational call is present in every age as a temptation to leave the ordinary duties of Christian piety for the extraordinary. This is Churchyard piety.

The Convert’s Blindness

Writing in the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik says of G.K. Chesterton:

In these books, Chesterton becomes a Pangloss of the parish; anything Roman is right. It is hard to credit that even a convinced Catholic can feel equally strongly about St. Francis’s intuitive mysticism and St. Thomas’s pedantic religiosity, as Chesterton seems to. His writing suffers from conversion sickness. Converts tend to see the faith they were raised in as an exasperatingly makeshift and jury-rigged system: Anglican converts of Catholicism are relived not to have to defend Henry VIII’s divorces; Jewish converts to Christianity are relieved to get out from under the weight of all those strange Levitical laws on animal hooves. The newly adopted faith, they imagine, is a shining, perfectly balanced system, an intricately worked clock where the cosmos turns to tell the time and the cuckoo comes out singing every Sunday. An outsider sees the Church as a dreamy compound of incense and impossibility, and, overglamorizing its pretensions, underrates its adaptability. A Frenchman or an Italian, even a devout one, can see the Catholic Church as a normally bureaucratic human institution, the way patriotic Americans see the post office, recognizing the frailty and even the occasional psychosis of its employees without doubting its necessity or its ability to deliver the message. Chesterton writing about the Church is like someone who has just made his first trip to the post office. Look, it delivers letters for the tiny price of a stamp! You write an address on a label, and they will send it anywhere, literally anywhere you like, across a continent and an ocean, in any weather! The fact that the post office attracts time-servers, or has produced an occasional gun massacre, is only proof of the mystical enthusiasm that the post office alone provides! Glorifying the postman beyond what the postman can bear is what you do only if you’re new to mail.

Hitler’s new religion

Ex-Nazi Hermann Rauschning reports on a conversation between Hitler and Bernhard Forster, Nietzsche’s brother- in-law:

Hitler would be the first to achieve what Christianity was meant to have been, a joyous message that liberated men from the things that burdened their life. We should no longer have any fear of death, and should lose the fear of a so-called bad conscience. Hitler would restore men to the self-confident divinity with which nature had endowed them.

Dusty Sklar writes of this new religion that it was:

…a mixture of paganism, Gnosticism, and magic. Its true purpose could only be revealed to the initiated, and only at the proper time, because only they would really grasp its import, and only when the way had been prepared.

All of this is from Sklar’s book The Nazis and the Occult.

What would Calvin have thought of ‘Calvinists’?

Probably not much. He attacks the idea of factions in the church being called by a leader’s name when he writes about monasticism:

And that there might be no doubt as to their separation, they have given themselves the various names of factions. They have not been ashamed to glory in that which Paul so execrates, that he is unable to express his detestation too strongly. Unless, indeed, we suppose that Christ was not divided by the Corinthians, when one teacher set himself above another; and that now no injury is done to Christ when, instead of Christians, we hear some called Benedictines, others Franciscans, others Dominicans, and so called, that while they affect to be distinguished from the common body of Christians, they proudly substitute these names for a religious profession.

Yoga leads to possession

This probably puts me firmly into the fundamentalist camp, but I don’t mind. An article says that yoga can lead to demonic possession, and I tend to agree. All kinds of non-Christian practices that were anathema when I was a kid (not that long ago) are now widely embraced, including horoscope reading, acupuncture, and yoga. Many of these eastern practices have their roots in the idol worship of false religions, and open the mind by making it blank. The article:

LONDON: It’s a spiritual practice that provides all the health benefits of physical exercise. Yet, a British exorcist has claimed that yoga could put people in danger of being possessed by evil spirits.

According to Father Jeremy Davies, exorcist for the leader of Catholics in the UK, yoga puts people at risk from devils and the occult is closely associated with the scourges of “drugs, demonic music and pornography” which’re “destroying millions of young people in our time”.

But Madhavi Padhy, one of the foremost yoga exponents based in New Delhi, laughed off the claims of the 73-year-old Catholic priest, saying “they are baseless”.

“Yoga originated in India thousands of years back. It has no connection with evil spirits. On the contrary, it helps you become more aware of your body, mind and environment. It also plays a key role in relieving stress and bringing inner peace,” Padhy said.

Father Davies has argued in his new book ‘In Exorcism: Understanding Exorcism In Scripture And Practice’ published by the Catholic Truth Society, that people who practice yoga may end up afflicting themselves by demons, British newspaper the ‘Daily Mail’ has reported.

“The thin end of the wedge (soft drugs, yoga for relaxation, horoscopes just for fun) is more dangerous than the thick end because it is more deceptive — an evil spirit tries to make his entry as unobtrusively as possible.

“Beware of any claim to mediate beneficial energies (eg reiki), any courses that promise the peace that Christ promises (eg enneagrams), any alternative therapy with its roots in eastern religion (eg acupuncture),” he wrote in his newly published book.

Father Davies has also said that occult practices such as magic, fortune-telling and holding seances to contact the spirits of the dead are “direct invitations to the Devil which he readily accepts”.

“Even heterosexual promiscuity is a perversion; and intercourse, which belongs in the sanctuary of married love, can become a pathway not only for disease but also for evil spirits… young people especially are vulnerable and we must do what we can to protect them.”

Five Objectionable Mormon Doctrines

In The New Mormon Challenge, Craig Bloomberg takes a stab at defining what he thinks the “five most objectionable Mormon doctrines” are. He says:

  1. a finite theism in which God at some point in eternity past was merely a man and not divine;
  2. a view of the universe as not eternally contingent on the will or being of God;
  3. the denial of the necessity of prevenient grace to overcome humanity’s sinful disposition in the process of conversion or regeneration;
  4. the denial of Trinitarian monotheism; and
  5. the denial of the classic Christian understanding of the relationship of the two natures of Christ.

William Ames on image worship

William Ames writing in his Marrow of Theology discusses image worship:

Prayer is opposed by the use of representative images at or before which God is worshiped, even though the worship is referred not to the images themselves – subjectively, as some say – but objectively to God alone.

Superstition of this type is called idolatry, Exod. 32:5; Ps. 106:20; Acts 7:41.

If idols are themselves worshiped instead of God, this is the idolatry which violates the first commandment. If the true God is worshiped at an image or in an image, this is the idolatry which violates the second commandment.

Although such a worshiper does not in intention offend against the primary or highest object in worship, yet from the nature of the thing itself he always offends against the formal worship of God. In his mind a new God, who is delighted with such worship, is imagined as the object of his adoration; religious worship is also given to the image itself. This occurs even when the worship is not considered to be ultimately bound up with the image but is directed to God himself.

The Golden Calf

Israel and Judah worshiped Yaweh in a compromised way that included the worship of deity via statues. This is what happened when Aaron first instituted the golden calf to worship Yaweh – note that Israel was not worshiping other gods, they were worshiping the one true God via a statue. John Sailhamer offers the following exegesis of the incident in Genesis 32:

The Hebrew text of the narrative is somewhat ambiguous about the intention of the golden calf. Did the calf represent “other gods” that Israel was now seeking to follow, or was it rather an attempt to make an image of the one true God, Yaweh? In other words, did the golden calf represent polytheism (worship of many gods) or idolatry (physical representation of God)? It is possible to translate the passage to reflect either view. Thus we must look to other features of the text and context for a solution.
Two immediate factors in the text affect the interpretation of the expression. First, the Hebrew word ‘elohim can be understood and translated either as a plural noun (“gods”) or as a singular (“god/God”). Only the context in most cases will determine which sense is intended. In many instances when the plural “gods” is intended, the verb used with the noun will also be plural. Since the verb in this passage is plural, the NIV has rendered the Hebrew noun ‘elohim in the plural: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (32:4). Often, however, the sense of the noun ‘elohim is clearly singular and should be translated “God,” even though the verb is plural. In the book of Nehemiah, for example, this very passage is quoted and the singular verb is used, showing that the translation was taken to be, “This is your God who brought you out of Egypt” (Ne 9:18). The book of Nehemiah thus understood the sense to be singular. Appropriately, in that passage, the NIV rendered it with the singular.
Second, the Hebrew expression “other gods” or “gods” is often, if not always, used specifically as a term for idols and not, as we might have expected, for “other gods” per se. In Deuteronomy 28:36, for example, the expression “other gods” clearly refers not to other deities as such but to “gods of wood and stone,” that is, idols. It is widely recognized that the biblical writers had little tolerance for the concept of other deities existing along with the one true God. The expression “other gods” or ‘elohim (plural) meant simply physical images or fetishes.
In the present passage the term gods, or rather god, represented in the golden calf, seems to be understood as an attempt to represent the God of the covenant with a physical image. The apostasy of the golden calf, therefore, was idolatry, not polytheism. Indeed, throughout Scripture Israel was repeatedly warned about the sin of idolatry.
Several points in the narrative suggest this conclusion. First, that the people wanted Aaron to “make” a god(s) for them (v. 1) shows that the term ‘elohim was understood as something that could be made–an idol, not a deity as such. For example, the same expression is used in 34:17, where the sense is clearly that of making an idol. In the present chapter, as well, Moses called the calf “a god of gold” (v. 31). Clearly, he saw the calf as an idol. Second, the Hebrew word for “idol” is actually used in this passage to describe the “god” that Aaron made: “He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf” (vv. 4,8). Third, Aaron fashioned only one golden calf. It is not likely that one calf would be called “gods” in the plural if actual gods were to be understood. Thus the reference to a single calf suggests that it represented one god/God and not many gods. Fourth, the “god” (‘elohim) which Aaron made is always referred to with the singular pronoun “it.” Finally, the celebration of the making of the golden calf is called “a feast for the Lord” (v. 5). Thus the Israelites saw the calf as a representation of the Lord rather than another deity.

Arthur Bloomfield & Bad Exegesis

I grew up in a church that was enamored with many things that I now find to be less that sound doctrinally – Finney’s sinless perfection for one. One thing that made a huge impact on my thinking was the dispensational thinking of a particular strand unique to my church. The source of much of this dispensational theology was a pastor named Arthur Bloomfield. He wrote and taught quite a bit, mainly on Daniel, Revelation, and other prophetic literature.

He has some odd hermeneutical principles that I embraced until I started looking at them a little bit closer.

Take this passage from the book of Amos for example; in it Amos is denouncing the sins of the northern kingdom of Israel and pronouncing judgment against them for their sins. Amos writes:

“Are you not as the sons of Ethiopia to Me, O sons of Israel?” declares the Lord.

Have I not brought up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir? Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; Nevertheless, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob,” Declares the Lord. “For behold, I am commanding, and I will shake the house of Israel among all nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, but not a kernel will fall to the ground. All the sinners of My people will die by the sword, Those who say, ’The calamity will not overtake or confront us.’

In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name,” Declares the Lord who does this.

Amos 9.7-12

It is instructive to see how Pastor Bloomfield interprets this passage. In a long section on the Ark of the Covenant he has this to say:

David built a tabernacle for the Ark in Jerusalem, before it entered into its rest in the temple, while it was still the symbol of conquest. Amos says, speaking of the return of the Jews, ’In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up the ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen.’ –Amos 9.11-12

The Ark was kept in the tabernacle of David during the wars of David after which it was transferred to the temple of Solomon. Amos gives the reasons for building again the tabernacle of David as it was in the days of old–namely, conquest, prosperity, safety. The tabernacle of David would be quite empty without the Ark. You will note also that the building of the tabernacle of David gives promise of the same blessings as does the lifting up of the ensign.

Bloomfield also mentions this in passing in his book All Things New (p. 236): “The tabernacle of David will be rebuilt (Amos 9:11).”

So we see that Pastor Bloomfield took a woodenly literal approach and said that the tabernacle will literally be rebuilt and that this will occur after a future return of presumably unbelieving Jews, and he adds that the Ark of the Covenant will be placed in this tabernacle mentioned by Amos. It sounds straightforward enough on its face, but there is one large problem, namely that the Holy Spirit through the Apostle James has given us the correct interpretation of this passage and it is completely different from what Pastor Bloomfield wrote.

In the famous Council of Jerusalem described in Acts 15 which dealt with the Gentiles being saved and the law of Moses, the Apostle James stood up and the account reads like this:

And after they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, ’After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruin, and I will restore it, In order that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ Says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old. Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles. Acts 15.13-19

James, inspired by God, tells us that the passage in Amos was being fulfilled in his day by the calling of the Gentiles and their grafting into the Israel of God. It has nothing to do with a literal tabernacle being rebuilt in some distant day.

I am not sure if Bloomfield ever addressed this passage from Acts, but it shows the failure of many dispensational authors to account for the interpretations of these passages in the New Testament itself.