Attached is the links to the two podcast I have been working on with @PreachItRayRay. We simply review the March 1st debate and discuss some other items of Apologetics importance. Enjoy.
Attached is the links to the two podcast I have been working on with @PreachItRayRay. We simply review the March 1st debate and discuss some other items of Apologetics importance. Enjoy.
The link to our debate on happiness is below. Enjoy and feel free to offer your comments.
It should now be obvious to the reader that Mormons don’t say what we think they are saying in dialogue. When one visits with a Mormon missionary or Mormon Elder, this becomes one of the key problems. The term confusion does not end with concepts like those already discussed. In regard to even the doctrine of salvation one cannot even discuss whether or not a Mormon is “saved.”
The doctrine of salvation for Mormonism follows a similar pattern to the ones previously identified. Frequently, orthodox elements are inserted into phrases and unorthodox elements are presented beside those elements to camouflage the heretical position of Mormons. The LDS church again uses the deception of theological cosmetics to make it appear that their concept of salvation is consistent with the one taught by Orthodox Christianity. Mormons use terms like “eternal life,” “heaven,” and “atonement.” As White points out however, “When a Mormon speaks of ‘eternal lives,’ he is speaking of God’s power of procreation—a far cry from what an evangelical means by ‘eternal life.’” How do they specifically mask their concept of Salvation? According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
Salvation in a Latter-day Saint context includes activity and service in the kingdom of God for all eternity, unhampered by the effects of sin, death, physical pain, sickness, or other impediments to joy. The highest level of salvation is to become like God and involves afamily unit. Lesser degrees of salvation are correspondingly less glorious and have restrictions.
Rather than stating outright that the official LDS position conflicts with the Christian one, the word “context” is placed in the early portion of the entry. This of course down plays the difference between the view of Salvation held by the LDS church and the one held by Christianity. Instead of directly engaging the primary differences right away, the quotation draws on concepts that appear orthodox “activity and service in the kingdom of God for all eternity.” The whole first sentence of the entry sounds Christian.
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on “Heaven” provides a fuller meaning for the Mormon doctrine of salvation. “There are various levels of salvation because there are various levels of belief and works among people.” A Mormon will defend this position by citing 2 Corinthians 12:2 and arguing for the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial heaven. Paul, in this text is simply noting the “sky above us . . . the stars and the earth . . . the abode of God himself” are different heavens. This notion of salvation being something that has a connection with “levels of belief” is foreign to the text of Scripture. The LDS church forces the Bible to say what they want it to say only to confirm the teaching of “the prophets” in regard to salvation.
White, Is the Mormon My Brother? p. 5.
Alma P. Burton, “Salvation,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992), p. 1257, http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/EoM/id/4391/show/5591 (accessed 3 September 2016).
Arthur Wallace, “Heaven,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992), p. 580, http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/EoM/id/43 (accessed 3 September 2016).
As I have shown in the previous post, in regard to both Scripture and God the Mormons clearly attempt to switch the meaning of the terms. There are various ways to label these deceptions, and at the conclusion of my series I will do so. Let me now turn to the methods Mormons use to re-define Jesus.
The Mormon Jesus cannot be the same as the Christian Jesus because of the underlying presuppositions the two faith systems have in regard to Scripture. The question then comes down to how the LDS church presents their Jesus as the same as the Christian Jesus. A distinct difference is the incarnation. The incarnation is the unique claim of the Bible that the second person of the Triune God took on human flesh in Jesus Christ, he was born of a virgin, and through his sacrificial atonement he brought about the redemption of a chosen people. This connects the Old Testament and the New Testament in a harmony that is unsurpassed by any other sacred text. Mormon theology rejects this claim.
In Journal of Discourses Brigham Young directly denied the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, and this rewrites the notion of the incarnation. Young stated:
When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. And who is the Father? He is the first of the human family; and when he took a tabernacle, it was begotten by his Father in heaven, after the same manner as the tabernacles of Cain, Abel, and the rest of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve; from the fruits of the earth, the first earthly tabernacles were originated by the Father . . . Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven.
This statement makes it evident that Mormons worship a different Jesus than Orthodox Christians. Mormons worship a Jesus who is “our elder brother,” a Jesus who was “not begotten by the Holy Ghost,” and a Jesus who “was begotten of his Father, as we are our fathers.” In other words, Jesus was conceived not by the Holy Spirit but through a procreative act between Elohim and Mary. This is not the Jesus of the Bible. The Mormon Jesus is cloaked in a mask of deceptive theological terms, and he is dressed up to look like the Jesus of the Bible.
Returning to The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, one will find statements like “Faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” This sounds Christian, but it cannot be if the Jesus of Mormonism is the “offspring of Elohim.” One will also find further evidence of this deceptive presentation of Jesus in the statement, “One who has this faith believes [Jesus] to be the living Son of God, trusts in his goodness and power, repents of one’s sins, and follows his guidance.” As was the case with Scripture and with God, the LDS church tries to have it both ways. They present a Jesus that looks like the Jesus of the Bible, and they do this by concealing the more extreme components of the incarnation with statements that are structured to appear Christian. This researcher labels this type of deception theological cosmetics.
Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1852), vol. 1, pp. 50-51, http://jod.mrm.org/1/46 (accessed 3 September 2016).
Young, Journal of Discourses, p. 115, http://jod.mrm.org/8/114.
Douglas E. Brinley, “Faith in Jesus Christ,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992), p. 483, http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Faith_in_Jesus_Christ (accessed 3 September 2016).
In my last blog post I explored what a Mormon means when they refer to “Scripture.” It is obvious that Mormons do not mean the same thing as Christians when they refer to “Scripture.” This has frequently produced numerous problems for Christians in conversing with Mormons, but this is not the only Christian term that Mormons redefine. Even talking about God with a Mormon creates confusion because of the fundamental and foundational differences between Mormons and Christians in regard to the doctrine of God.
The source of a Christian’s knowledge about God comes from the Bible. Since Mormonism grants a greater authority to the Church President than it does the Bible, Mormons differ substantially from the Christian view of God. Lorenzo Snow, the fifth President of the LDS church, frequently stated the following couplet, “As man now is, God once was: as God now is, man may be.” Snow claimed to have had this revelation in 1840 while visiting a friend in Nauvoo, Illinois. At the time Snow was not the President of the LDS church, but Mormon history records that he waited until Joseph Smith confirmed the concept before teaching it publically. The couplet above should be outright rejected by any Christian by using a verse like Psalm 90:2:
Before the mountains were born
Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
Mormons disregard for biblical position that “God has no beginning or end” has been sidestepped by the LDS church from the foundations of the cult.
Joseph Smith stated that “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man . . . That is the great secret.” Rather than trying to deal with God’s eternity in passages like Genesis 21:33; Deuteronomy 33:27; Romans 1:20; or Ephesians 3:11, Smith decided that he was going to correct the biblical authors. In other words, Smith and Snow held that not only were Christians wrong about the eternity of God, but the Jewish scriptures were wrong. The definition of eternity offered even today by the LDS church states, “Scriptural passages that ascribe eternity to God do not say or imply that God is independent of, or outside of, or beyond time.” This issue, as Frame notes, about God’s eternity, “is more complicated than a simple decision between whether God is ‘in’ or ‘out’ of time.”
The LDS teaching does not actually deal with the complexities of eternal existence. Mormonism uses the deceptive strategy of redefining eternal existence, and the cult presents that they have access to a deeper truth about a god. They make God like man. They redefine the God presented in the Old and New Testament. This eventually causes the church to have to adopt the Law of Eternal Progression. The eternal nature of God is not the only theological issue in regard to God’s attributes that the LDS church rewrites.
White notes that Mormons use terms like “omnipotence” and “omniscience.” They claim these characteristics are attributes of the “Father,” but what do these terms mean to the Mormon in relation to God? Here is how the Encyclopedia of Mormonism defines all three terms:
OMNIPOTENCE . . . No one or no force or happening can frustrate or prevent [God] from accomplishing his designs. . . . the Church does not understand this term in the traditional sense . . . rather, that there are actualities that are coeternal with the persons of the Godhead . . . [it] cannot coherently be understood as absolutely unlimited power.
OMNIPRESENCE . . . Latter-day Saints believe that God the Father and God the Son are gloriously embodied persons, they do not believe them to be bodily omnipresent.
OMNISCIENCE . . . God increases endlessly in knowledge . . .
These definitions are complete redefinitions of the Christian terms. Frame, for example, defines Omnipotence by noting, “We learn of God’s nature though his revelation . . . he can do everything Scripture describes him as doing, and much more.” Christian theologians other than Frame offer comprehensive definitions of the above terms. Without even having to offer a counter definition the Mormon Encyclopedia notes that the Mormon’s uses of these terms are not understood in the “traditional sense.” Rather than being upfront about redefining historic Christian terms, the LDS church presents the attributes of the Mormon god as being the same ones of the God of Christian Scripture.
Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011), Chapter 5, https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-of-presidents-of-the-church-lorenzo-snow/chapter-5-the-grand-destiny-of-the-faithful?lang=eng (accessed 31 October 2016).
All Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible, (The Lockman Foundation, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995), unless otherwise noted.
Joseph Smith, Teachings of the President (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2011), 36-44, https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-joseph-smith/chapter-2?lang=eng (accessed 7 September 2016).
Kent E. Robson, “Time and Eternity,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992), http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Time_and_Eternity (accessed 3 September 2016).
David L. Paulsen, “Omnipotent God; Omnipresence of God; Omniscience of God,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992), p. 1030, http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Omnipotent_God;_Omnipresence_of_God;_Omniscience_of_God (accessed 3 September 2016).
In my last blog I began posting about exploring some of the methods of deception employed by cults. I discussed briefly the history of Mormonism so that my readers might be able to have a context for Mormonism’s tendency to re-shape various Christian concepts. Now we will turn our focus specifically to Mormonism’s redefinition of Scripture.
For Orthodox Christianity, Scripture is the ultimate standard for understanding doctrinal truth. One of the primary tenants of the Protestant reformation was “Sola scriptura.” As Wayne Grudem notes, “It is Scripture alone . . . that must function as the normative authority for the definition of what we should believe.” One observes that the LDS church, functioning with an open cannon and believing in a living prophet, does not honestly believe in the authority of scripture. If Mormonism is to be considered Christian, then it is expected for their view of Scripture, or discussion of Scripture within their confessions of faith, to uphold the same standard as other Christian denominations. However, when a Mormon refers to scripture they mean something entirely different from the cannon of the New Testament church.
In The Articles of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the ninth article states, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Notice again how Mormonism cloaks the claim of a living prophet next to an Orthodox Christian statement. What Christian would not agree with the statement “We believe all that God has revealed”? To the Mormon, however, this means believing “The Standard Works” and the words of the LDS prophets from the past. As Doctrine and Covenants section 68 verse 4 states, “And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” It is clear that the Mormon faith makes two claims that contradict one another in regards to Scripture. First, Mormons claim that the Bible is foundational to their religion by including it in their list of “The Sacred Works.” The LDS church would likewise contend that the Bible is true, but in a rather limited way. They argue that this makes them Christian, but the Christian faith has never allowed for further revelation in the manner the LDS church does, nor has the Christian faith allowed for an open cannon since Athanasius’s 39th Festal Letter. While using terms like “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” “the written word of God,” “living oracles,” “Holy Priesthood” etc., Mormonism devalues the Bible to a position below any Protestant denomination. Therefore, the LDS church presents a surface level similarity to the Christian faith concerning Scripture, but underlying the thin veneer of veiled language is the reality that Mormonism is not Christian.
Grudem, p. 25.
Joseph Smith, The Pearl of Great Price: The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1880), https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp?lang=eng (accessed 3 September 2016).
Joseph Smith, Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), section 68, https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/68.4?lang=eng (accessed 7 September 2016).
“Inerrancy of the Bible,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, last modified September 1, 2016, https://www.lds.org/topics/Bible-inerrancy-of?lang=eng (accessed 3 September 2016).
Grudem, p. 58.
For my next few blog posts I will be exploring a few various cults. An exact definition for the term cult is contingent upon one’s worldview. Apologist H. Wayne House argues, “A cult is defined as a group of people who, though claiming to be Christian, accept one or more central tenets of beliefs that run contrary to historic Christianity (emphasis added).” Some of the most prevalent American cults purposefully mishandle theological language. Walter Martin contends, “The student of cultism, then, must be prepared to scale the language barrier of terminology.” Many cults present themselves as Christian by purposefully misapplying Christian terms and concepts. This method has remained an incredibly effective strategy to this day as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Freemasons illustrate.
There are various ways that cults deceive others than just through the use and misuse of language. My primary focus in these blogs will be either upon the misuse of Christian terminology by cults or the various beliefs cults uphold that seem Christian. Before I go into the exact methods for deception employed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons, I will briefly explore their history.
Mormonism, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), traces its origins to Joseph Smith. Smith claimed he was visited by the Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in the year 1820 following a revival service. During this visit, Smith asked God which church he should join. God told Smith that no church was the true church. In the year 1823, Smith allegedly had an encounter with the angel Moroni. This angel told Smith where he could locate ancient records of the Jewish people who had moved to the Americas in 600 B.C. In 1827, on the hill Cumorah, Smith dug-up the golden plates Moroni told him about. Then he began the process of translating these “ancient records”. The plates became what is now known as The Book of Mormon. While there is a great deal of evidence suggesting that both visions have been changed, or are inaccurate, this is the standard narrative upheld by the LDS church to date.
The plates, according to Joseph Smith, were written in “reformed Egyptian” a language that still eludes historians. There are conflicting methods concerning what Smith used and how Smith translated the plates. Some have even asserted that Smith did not even “look at the golden plates.” David Whitmer, in An Address to all Believers noted that, “[Smith] placed a seer stone into a hat and covered his face with the hat to see wonderful visions in the stone concerning the hieroglyphics and English translation.” It was well known in Palmyra, New York, prior to Smith having discovered the tablets and claiming to have had his first vision, that Smith was “a mystic, a man who spent much time digging for an imaginary buried treasure.”
Between the years 1831 and 1844, Smith reported to have received as many as 135 direct revelations from God. During this time, Smith would institute the doctrine of polygamy, and he began to more fully develop his theology. Foundational to Smith’s movement is his claim that the Mormon Church is the only true church. Smith used cultural influences to begin his own religion and develop a major following by hijacking elements of the Christian faith that were dear to individuals around him.
The history of Mormonism is much more expansive than what has been written here. Martin noted, “The history of Mormonism is a vast and complex subject. It is a veritable labyrinth.” Further complicating the history of Mormonism is the concept that, “Mormonism holds open the door for additional scriptures to be added to their cannon,” and Mormonism has a long history of revising its past. One constant in Mormonism is its redefining of Christian terminology. As this cult cloaks itself in Christian language, one only needs to lift the cloak slightly to discover that Mormons are anything but Christian.
In my next blog post I will address the method the Mormons use to redefine what Scripture is.
H. Wayne House, Charts of Cults, Sects, & Religious Movements (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), p. 9.
James Holly, A Report on Freemasonry (Houston, TX: Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1993), pp. 2-5; Bob Smietana, Mormons and Baptist Compete for Converts,” The Baptist Standard, August 30, 2012, https://www.baptiststandard.com/news/faith-culture/14237-mormons-and-baptists-compete-for-converts (accessed 3 September 2016).
Joseph Smith, “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Last modified September 1, 2016, http://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon?lang=enghttps (accessed 3 September 2016).
James White, Letters to a Mormon Elder (Vestavia Hills, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 1993), pp. 88-106; Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, pp. 200-201.
Rob Phillips, The Apologist Tool Kit: Resources to Help You Defend the Faith, (Jefferson City, MO: Missouri Baptist Convention, 2016), pp. 157-158.
Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, p 208, citing David Whitmer, An Address to all Believers in Christ, (1887), p. 12.
Ibid., p. 197.
White, Is the Mormon My Brother? pp. 24-25, 36.
*First, I want to apologize for not being as faithful as I should have been the last few months regarding my discipline to post blogs. I hope to be more effective with this.
On March 1st my colleague Sean McCormack and I will participate in a Theological Debate on the proposition “Resolved: A commitment to faith is necessary for the pursuit of happiness.” Because I believe theological debate is far more than a shouting match, I wanted to post some of the reasons I believe all Christian Apologist should consider working to participate in Christian Theological Debate.
1) It is scriptural
Paul participated in this type of apologetic (Acts 17, 22 23, 24, 26). Stephen participated in this type of apologetic (Acts 6:9-7:53). There are numerous other examples of this type of apologetic approach (1 Kings 18:20-40; Matthew 22:23-33; Acts 18:4; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, & 12:12; Jude 3). If the Christian Apologist takes seriously the example of scripture, then I feel this is an avenue for delivering your defense that should be considered.
2) It is evangelistic
Formal Apologetic Debate has the potential to allow one to speak the gospel in settings not ordinary opened to the gospel witness. Debating can put you in a mosque, in a Shrine Temple, on a college campus, or at an atheist conference. One does not choose to become a debating apologist to mow over people but to present the gospel.
3) It develops one’s critical listening
Formal debate forces one to have to pay attention to the arguments of the other side. One will have to listen to and try to understand the worldview that is being presented by their opponent. If one takes the time to accurately represent the arguments of the other side, then they will garner a credibility that is foreign to the lost world. The formal debate setting allows a Christian scholar to disprove the cliché opinion of Christians being ignorant and closed minded.
4) It strengthens one’s writing
Writing a debate case will cause one to listen to their argument with a great deal of scrutiny. Knowing that another person will be carefully analyzing your every word will cause you to not only write differently, but it will cause you to approach your logic from a different view point. Working to internally critique what you are presenting should cause you to produce a sound position.
5) It demonstrates Christian ethics
When a Christian Apologist engages in formal debate the opportunity is granted for that apologist to demonstrate a Christ-like concern for the other debater. Further, the apologist is given a chance to show he is civil, ethical, and kind. Likewise, the formal debate demonstrates that the Christian Apologist cares enough about the other side to have researched them and has attempted to understand the other side.
Participating in a debate also allows one to show their love for not using the name of the Lord in vain. Because a sound Christian debater does not wish to try and have gotcha moments, they are able to be truthful to present the nature of Christ and accurately represent the other side.
6) It forces one to critically examine their worldview
Christian Apologetic debate inherently forces a debater to work out their worldview. Every apologist’s in the debate setting must appeal to their world view and call into question the worldview of the audience and their debate opponent. This becomes a major undertaking for an audience member if the apologist can demonstrate inconsistencies in worldviews other than theirs.
The debate setting places every member of the encounter in a unique situation where vulnerabilities, weakness, and assumptions are scrutinized. And while a debater is dialoging with their opponent they are dialoguing with the internal arguments being made by the audience against one’s case. Again this medium of apologetics places an apologist in a context and setting normally not open to them.
7) It forces one to develop their apologetic to fit various audiences
When participating in moderated apologetic debates one will have to speak to the culture. A Christian Apologist is not worried so much about winning arguments as he is about winning a person to Christ. Because this is the primary focus of an apologetic debate, the Christians Apologist will adjust his arguments to fit the college campus he is speaking on, the Mormon Church, the Kingdom Hall, or wherever he finds himself debating. An apologist is not working to find a quick fix argument or “tossing spaghetti” on the wall to see what fits, rather he is looking for the arguments that fit the context and using them.
8) It reinforces sound theology
The apologist has a chance in moderated debate to not only correct Christians’ theology, but he can respond to many challenges brought against the Christian faith because of poor theology.
9) It is impossible to lose
The debate setting is a chance for one to preach the gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to accomplish what he will. A Christian Apologist recognizes that he is not the one who wins people to Christ. He merely has to speak truth and do it in love. Moderated debate will be used to accomplish what God will have accomplished.
We’ve been seeing a lot of judgment going on in America, and around the world, lately. Most of that judgment in recent weeks has centered around the Presidential Race with people from all over weighing in on their candidate of choice regardless of whether or not they’re U.S. citizens. Noted British Author J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, tweeted her opposition to Donald Trump this week noting that anytime someone like Trump gets close to the nuclear codes it’s the whole world’s business. On the flip side of the coin, Russian politicians have stated this past week that if Hillary Clinton wins the election it will mean World War III.
I’m sure you’ve also all noticed that I’m not dressed quite as nicely and professionally today as I normally dress. There’s a reason for that too, it’s a sermon illustration. Think on your first thoughts when you saw me and the way I’m dressed this morning. Now, think on what your first thoughts would be if you saw someone dressed like this out on the street.
Now, imagine I stood here and told all of you that God wants you to vote for Trump. Now, imagine I stood up and said God wants you all to vote for Clinton. Now, imagine an outlandish world where I told you all I thought Sam Brownback was the finest governor in Kansas history. What would your judgment of me be then?
Now, imagine that my ethnicity or gender were different and that I was a visitor to the congregation.
What would your opinion of me be then?
Would you come introduce yourself and welcome me to the church?
Would you offer me a good place to sit for the service?
Would you encourage me to fill out a guest information card?
Or, would you just be glad to see the back of me when I left and hope that I never came back?
As we continue to move through our study in the Epistle of James we’re going to be talking a good bit about the judgements that we make, both as people and as a society, based on the external appearances of the people that we meet. This issue of judging a book by its cover, literally and figuratively, is an issue that is indeed as old as time. It was an issue in the early church and it is an issue that James addresses for us at the beginning of the second chapter of his epistle.
So, if you will all go ahead and turn with me in your Bibles to James 2:1-4 we’ll take a look at the first four verses from James that we’ll be dealing with today, and there we read:
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. 2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” 4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
In this passage of Scripture James is discussing partiality that is shown by Christians to those who come to visit the church. The partiality he is discussing is specifically dealing with the way that the people in the church reacted and treated visitors based on their appearances.
We see, right off, in verse 2 that James describes for us the two visitors that have come to the church in this hypothetical situation that he puts before them. He first describes the rich man that has come into the presence of the assembly as a visitor, noting that this wealthy visitor is clad in very fine clothes and that he has many rings on his fingers. The Greek word that James uses to describe this man’s rings literally translates as “gold fingered” and in Roman society having a ring on your finger was a sign of wealth, there were shops in Rome and around the Empire where people could rent rings for special occasions in the same way we can rent fine clothing and jewelry today (1).
James contrasts this wealthy visitor with the appearance of the poor man in “filthy clothes” which is all that we’re told about the appearance of this poor person that has come into the Assembly as a visitor. Based just on that description we can assume that this poor individual has come into the church in dirty, ratty clothing. He may, in fact, be clad in rags and there’s every possibility that this person is a beggar straight off the street.
James deals with how the members of the church respond to these two visitors who have come into the assembly at roughly the same time during the same service, contrasting the treatment each of them receives. We notice that the well-dressed visitor is treated considerably better than the poor man. The wealthy person is welcomed into the congregation, seemingly with open arms, and invited to take a prominent seat of some importance within the church. Essentially, this rich person is moved front and center so they will feel important and so they can be put on display. It’s a way of both showing the rich person how highly they think of them while also advertising for the church to other people that come in. They’re saying to everyone, “See here? Look at who comes to church here! You’ve got to come to church here because this person comes here, don’t you want to be around this person?”
Conversely, the poor person is treated with a good deal of contempt, really. The people of the church aren’t ready to completely banish the poor person from their midst. It’s not like they grab him by the back of his filthy clothing, frog march him over to the door, and toss him outside. But, they also don’t go out of their way to make them feel very welcome either. Rather than inviting this poor person into a seat of honor, or even a seat in the pews, they direct them to go stand in some out of the way corner of the sanctuary where they won’t be seen. Of course, if the poor person prefers to sit instead of standing for the church service there’s always the floor next to the foot stools of the church members.
The people in the church are, very clearly, showing and giving preferential treatment to the wealthy individual. James rebukes them for this kind of action, noting that in so doing they have become judges with evil thoughts. Through their actions they have gravely dishonored the poor person, and James tells them as much in verse 6. Their actions have shown the poor man that they are, in reality, no different from the rest of the world in that they will also treat him poorly and with little respect.
Let me ask you, if you’re the poor person in this illustration that James gives here and you’re treated this way while you can watch as another, albeit vastly wealthier, visitor comes into the church on the same day at the same time and gets the royal treatment from the church members how likely would you be to go back to that church? How willing would you be to consider the message and the truth that the church wanted to share with you concerning Christ and what He did on the Cross?
I think we all know that almost none of us would ever return to that church, and maybe not ever to any church again. In those few moments of partiality the congregation had potentially forever closed the doors of the heart of that poor person and the same can certainly be true of us here today as well when we behave in a similar manner to people we encounter.
Quite apart from that, though, James goes on to explain something else that is wrong with this kind of partiality and treatment of people based on their outside appearance and the way that society views them. When we turn to James 2:8-10 we read the following words:
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
What James tells us here in his epistle, point blank, is that when we give preferential treatment to someone else at the expense of the way we treat a different person based solely on worldly reasoning then we are committing a sin. When we show partiality to someone else because of their appearance and that partiality results in a negative reaction we are in the wrong. While this may not seem like such a big thing, after all there are many sins that we would classify as being much worse, in the end it is still sin and we can be convicted as sinners because of it.
The lessons are relatively simple, and it draws on many Biblical teachings. First, James tells us that all sin is abominable and objectionable to God. Murder and adultery are every bit as sinful as being rude and discourteous to another person, at least in God’s eyes. James makes it clear that when we stumble in even one area of the law we are guilty of having violated the law and, therefore, we are convicted as sinners at that point. Sinners that are in need of Grace and forgiveness.
Second, James points out that the law according to Scripture is to love thy neighbor as thyself. This draws on the words of Christ when He tells people that the second greatest of all the commandments is to love thy neighbor as thyself. Since everyone is our neighbor we are, therefore, to love everyone as we love ourselves. Paul echoes this in describing the Fruit of the Spirit, noting in the verses following the ones where they are enumerated by saying that there is no law against practicing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
It’s not an easy thing to do, but it is what we are called upon to practice as followers of Christ. To show and demonstrate love to others as we ourselves have been and are loved by Christ who died on the Cross for us while we were still sinners so that we need not be separated from God. We are told here not to show partiality or judge others based on what the world says is laudable in terms of social status or material possessions.
In short James is reminding us, lastly, to follow the Golden Rule and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We don’t like it when we’re shunned. We don’t like it when we’re ignored. We don’t like it when we’re treated differently than someone else is just because we’re dressed different or look different. We dislike being discriminated against and, therefore, we should not discriminate against others.
Rather than forming judgements and making decisions based on what a person looks like or how society says we should view a given individual we should be taking the time to get to know people as our neighbors. Everyone is different. Everyone has different likes and dislikes. Instead of letting society segregate us and wall us off from one another based on arbitrary classifications we should be seeking to break down the barriers and the classifications that society uses to label us.
Our difference in this regard should make us stand out and stand apart from society because as Christians we are told to not be of the world.
Today we’ve taken a look at James 2:1-13 and, in considering the words of James here I think we’ve also been forced to take a look in the mirror at ourselves and the way that we make snap judgments and treat people based on their appearances. As James points out, this kind of behavior on our part is sinful. It places barriers between ourselves and our neighbors and, as a result, it makes reaching people with the Good News of the Gospel message that much more difficult. We should be more focused on inclusivity for all people to help us reach more of the lost with the Gospel message and we should be treating everyone the way we would like to be treated, regardless of what they look like or what society tells us they are.
(1) Hiebert, D. Edmund. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press, 1979, pg. 151.
We’re all familiar with warning labels in our lives. Indeed, warnings and learning from our mistakes are two of things in our lives that have been near universal constants from the day we are born until the day that we depart from this earthly existence. Don’t touch the hot stove top as we’re told in the kitchen. Beware of dog is another popular warning that we’re all familiar with. Caution, contents hot is on every fast food coffee cup we receive now thanks to a famous lawsuit. Perhaps one of my most favorites, especially during the Halloween Season that we’re now in is the warning I’ve seen on some children’s super hero costumes, that warns us that wearing super hero capes does not enable the wearer to fly.
Now, there are reasons for each and every one of those warnings. We’re told not to touch hot stove tops because we’ll get burned. We’re told to beware of unknown dogs because there are inherent dangers associated with pestering dogs we don’t know. We all know about the famous McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit. Finally, we know that the warning is on the super hero cape because at some point someone must have tried to fly while wearing one under the genuine belief that the cape would enable them to fly. Those painful lessons are the reasons we have some highly amusing warning labels today that often remind us to exercise common sense.
Since we know that, even in our modern society, we have to be warned against dangers it should come as no surprise to us that we also find the Biblical writers warning us on spiritual matters as well. Indeed, given the sheer stupidity and lack of common sense that we can witness on a daily basis I think the case can be made that we’re in greater need of these kinds of warnings today than the ancient Christians were.
After all, I think we all know that the crazy thing about common sense is that, sadly, it’s not as common as we think.
As we examine our final passage from James 1 today, looking at verses 19-27, we’re going find a warning that James delivers to his readers. James will go further in explaining the necessity for his warning and steps that we can take to avoid falling into the very trap that he warns us against.
So, if you want to go ahead and turn with me in your Bibles to James 1:22 we’ll take a look first at the warning that James offers before getting into his reasons for that warning and steps we can take to be doers instead of just hearers:
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
So, in these dozen words James delivers a stern warning for us and this warning is not delivered to the non-believers so much as it is given to those who call themselves Christians. His warning is that we are not merely to hear the Word but to be doers of the Word as well lest we deceive or delude ourselves concerning our faith.
As we explain this warning, and the reasoning for it in a few moments, it is important to address the fact that James is not disparaging those who are hearers of the Word nor is James saying that hearing the Word is a bad or unnecessary thing (1). Rather, what James is saying is that those who are hearers only delude themselves through self-delusion because they conclude that they may be satisfied with the possession of grace without ever applying it, something Jesus and Paul both warn against in the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistle of Romans respectively (2).
Seeing this warning it’s now time for us to ask that childhood question we were all so fond of. The question of why. Children today are still quite fond of that question, even when we would assume they would know the answer before they ask. Just a few days ago my landlady’s three year old daughter asked me why I was going to take a shower, so I know this question is still a popular one.
When we turn to James 1:21, 23-26 we find James’ explanation for why he gives believers this warning, beginning with verse 21:
21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
And then when we skip down to verses 23-26 we read:
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.
In these five verses, James answers our question for why and our request for the reasoning behind his warning and he provides several courses of reasoning.
In verse 21 we find the first of those reasons for being doers as well as hearers, when James tells us to lay aside filthiness and wickedness to to receive the implanted Word to save our souls. In using this kind of imagery, specifically the “implanted Word” James draws us back to the Gospels and the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. When we receive the implanted Word we receive a seed and it then becomes incumbent upon us to make sure that such a received Word and seed falls on the good soil so that it grows and blooms into a saving faith in Christ.
We know that God is never satisfied with partial purity, partial goodness, or partial righteous and in order to give ourselves completely to the Word we must address our hindering sins that are inconsistent with the Christian life (3). So, we are to give ourselves to the Word and to be doers of the Word and not just hearers because such actions strengthen our walks with God and make it easier for us to avoid falling into the traps of temptation in the future. The great Church reformer John Calvin said: “that these are innate evils in our nature… we ae never wholly cleansed from them… they are continually sprouting up… requir[ing[ that care should be constantly taken to eradicate them.” (4)
James also cautions us to be doers of the Word as well as hearers through offering the example of the person that looks in the mirror. When we look in the mirror we often find things that require action on our part and we take that action while we’re standing in front of the mirror (5). If we don’t take the action that we see is needed to correct our appearance when we stand before the mirror and go away trusting that we will remember later to do it then we are liable to forget what it is that needs to be done.
James is paralleling the inaction in the physical realm with inaction in the spiritual realm (5). Often as we pray and as we serve as the hands and feet of God here on Earth we find things in our own selves and own natures that need to be corrected. But, too often we leave those experiences having not taken any, or having only taken partial, corrective action then we forget what it was that we were needing to work on fixing.
When it comes to our walks with God we don’t have a physical mirror that we can readily examine ourselves against. But, that doesn’t mean that there’s not still a way for us to examine our spiritual appearance and that measuring stick that we use is the Word of the Lord. As Believers, we accept that the Word is the authoritative standard by which we are to measure ourselves and, unlike the mirror, the Word provides us with an undistorted view (7). James refers to the Word as the “law of Liberty”, called such because of the liberty we receive from bondage to sin through our faith in Christ, and when we come to recognize it we long to actively obey as doers of it not because we must, but because we choose to do so prompting our obedience without any compulsion (8).
God wants more than random acts of obedience, God seeks our complete obedience through a life devoted to doing His Will which He knows leads to our being blessed and experiencing through faithfulness the secret of true happiness (9).
So, we are told to be doers and not just hearers because James understands and wishes to impart to us that being doers activates our faith, deepens our walks with God, helps us to better avoid the traps of temptation, and so that we can experience joy and gladness through service to God.
Understanding now the warning that James has given to us and the reasoning behind his warning, we should be led to a question concerning how we can be doers of the Word as James has said that we should be. To discover how we can go about becoming doers of the Word we are led to James 1:19-20, 26-27, beginning in verse 19:
19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
And, in verses 26-27:
26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
In these four verses James provides us with several ways to go about being doers of the Word in addition to being hearers and we’ll start right at the top in verse 19 with “swift to hear, slow to speak, [and] slow to wrath.” In writing these practical words on being doers, James is relating for us common thought of the time and demonstrating his knowledge of the writing we find in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (10).
For example, in Proverbs 16:32 the Bible says:
He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
First, concerning being swift to hear we should recognize that the very fact that we find James first mentioning that a doer of the Word will be swift to hear should serve as proof that James is not rebuking those who hear the Word but rather those who hear the Word without applying it. The command to be swift to hear means that we are to be eager and attentive to the Word and to then apply what we have been taught (11). Now, as he does in many other places throughout his Epistle James is encouraging us to an active and not a passive faith.
Second, James exhorts us to be slow to speak. Being slow to speak will help prevent us from causing tension with our fellow Believers and non-Believers. James is offering us through this advice a means of protection against shallow, immature, and immoderate actions (12). How often have we reacted in anger and popped off at the mouth only to cause considerably more problems for ourselves than we initially had? My parents always told me that my mouth would get me in to trouble and, believe me, it has in the past and probably will in the future. Hence, the imperative to be slow to speech.
Third, and finally, James says that we are to be slow to wrath. James understands that rash speech can lead to rash action and provoke animosity among the members of the church (12). How often have we seen or heard of churches that have been split because of differences of opinion? How often have we seen differences of opinion lead to us forgetting that all who profess a saving faith in Christ are our brothers and sisters in the faith? How often have we seen differences of opinion cause rifts and destroy friendships and family relationships through obstinacy?
I think we all know that the answer to those questions is “far too often”.
The words of James here do not forbid all anger, those who are never roused by evil are morally deficient, but James does counsel that anger must be tempered so that it is not unjustly and unjustifiably used to the detriment of all involved parties (13).
In the last two verses, 26 and 27, James tells us that being doers of the Word requires a unity of both the inner acceptance of the Gospel and a demonstration of the outward effects of the Gospel on our lives (14). In short, a living faith, which we will discuss more in coming weeks. The essential point, though, is that our inner acceptance of the transforming power of the Gospel leads to an outward expression in our lives through the choices that we make (15).
In telling us to visit the orphans and the widows James is telling us that part of having a doing faith is viewing the most needy classes within society with sympathy of thought and deed (16). These marginalized people were, in ancient times as now, pushed to the outside of society with little hope of advancement and they were often the target of the more unscrupulous parts of society in general (17).
James is not calling for us to be wholly separated from society, but instead to be alert so that we don’t accept the practices of a fallen world as being correct so that, through our actions, we can be blessed with chances to spread the Gospel (18). The recently Sainted Mother Teresa serves as an excellent example of this kind of hearing and doing of the faith. Through her actions in seeing to the needs of the poor, sick, and marginalized of society she was blessed with a Nobel Prize and numerous opportunities for sharing the Gospel in both word and deed. James is calling us to not be physically apart from society, but to be spiritually apart from society through our actions that we might reflect God’s love and actively witness for the Kingdom.
So today we have examined and explored James 1:19-27. Through discussing James’ warning against being hearers of the Word without also being doers we have come to a deeper understanding of the multiple reasons that James has for offering such a warning to us. Understanding those reasons as being beneficial and meant to promote our personal growth and the deepening of our faith in Christ we’ve come to a better understanding of the importance of being active for Christ while discovering several ways that we can be active in our own communities to serve as beacons to the lost.
(1) Hiebert, D. Edmund. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press, 1979, pg. 133.
(2) Hiebert, 133-134.
(3) Hiebert, 128
(4) Hiebert, 129-130.
(5) Hiebert, 135.
(6) Hiebert, 135.
(7) Hiebert, 136.
(8) Hiebert, 137.
(9) Hiebert, 138.
(10) Hiebert, 125.
(11) Hiebert, 125.
(12) Hiebert, 126.
(13) Hiebert, 126.
(14) Hiebert, 141.
(15) Hiebert, 142.
(16) Hiebert, 142.
(17) Hiebert, 142.
(18) Hiebert, 143.