Dear 6 followers,
It has been 10 years since I joined the blogusphere and I think it is time for a new approach.
Smoky Mountain Bible institute is not going away it is moving.
in the past 7 years I have had here over 10,000 page views for over 10 countries but I would like to make these articles a little easier to find because that was the original reason for doing this.
Most of these articles are designed to answer specific questions.
I will continue to work on the Pastor what is the difference question
and I still have to address the scientific disciplines of Sociology and Theology
That all being said my next post will have a link to a web site with all these articles arranged by topic.
Blessings to you all and have a blessed day
In Christ Pastor Portier
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #100
We have discussed the three ladders that separate people from God and his truth in doctrine and practice now let’s jump into the five errors or departures from biblical truth that just refuse to die. All modern departures from biblical truth (either directly or indirectly) fall into one of these five categories. There are two commonly parroted phrases that can show the difference between a heretical statement and a sound biblical one. "All paths lead to god" This statement is heretical, and "There is nothing new under the sun." this is a sound biblical truth found in the ninth verse of Ecclesiastes chapter one. Heresies are like viruses that infect sound doctrine and grow within the church, attacking biblical truth and sound practices. So, before we discuss the five historic types, let us first define ‘heresy’.
Heresy: A doctrine or practice contrary to clear biblical truth. This is of course, a confessional Lutheran definition of this word. Some will argue that "clear biblical truth" is a topic for debate and I will refer that debate to lessons 96 & 97. "All paths lead to god" departs from the biblical principal of exclusivity. This is a clear principal taught throughout scripture. The first commandment, and Christ himself claimed this exclusivity in John 14 verse 6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." The issue of exclusivity is offensive in our postmodern society. Interestingly, those who condemn this principal as too exclusive....exclude those who hold this view, while claiming to be inclusive of all....except of course those who are too exclusive. If that seems a bit circular, illogical, and ridiculous to you...welcome to the club.
The devil is not very original when seeking to deceive God's people he just repackages the same old lies. "There is nothing new under the sun." Knowing about these heresies can function like a vaccine to protect us from false doctrines and practices.
The first and oldest of the heresies is Legalism, which made its first appearance in the Garden of Eden when Eve added to God's instruction by saying they should not touch the fruit. God said they shall not eat of it, but He did not prohibit touching. I find it interesting that this first form of legalism could be seen as laying the ground work for the first sinful act of disobedience. When we create our own rules, it leads to confusion which leads to sin. The early Christian church dealt with this heresy in the form of the Judaizers. Again, the problem with this form of heresy is that it makes rules where God does not and in so doing drives a wedge between God and man. It could be said that this is what all heresies do, but each one does it in a different way. With legalism, you end up with rules that are works you must do in order to be saved or have access to salvation. In the case of the Judaizers, they required circumcision, in essence saying that you had to first become Jewish in order to become a Christian. This shifts the work of salvation away from Jesus and puts it on our shoulders. We see St. Paul and the other Apostles working hard to root out this heresy in the early Church in the book of Acts and in some of Paul's epistles, especially Galatians. They came together specifically to deal with this question in Acts 15. We know from Romans 4: 5 & 6 that we are justified objectively by works outside of ourselves in the person and work of Christ. "5. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6. Just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works…" ESV
We see legalism sadly alive and well within Trinitarian Christianity today in many forms. They are man-made rules that are not biblical. For example, the idea that some form of penance is required for forgiveness, or that some form of decision on my part is required for a heart troubled by its own sinful nature to be given the gift of faith, turning Baptism and the Lord’s Supper into works of obedience, or requiring speaking in tongues as evidence of faith. Whenever we require a rule or activity that is not based on a clear biblical doctrine, as I pointed out earlier with the doctrine of exclusivity, we fall into the same legalistic trap Eve did when she put words in God’s mouth about touching the fruit. Next month we will discuss Gnosticism.
Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #101
Gnosticism: Shortly after the early church dealt with the problem of Legalism, Gnosticism which actually predates Christianity took on a Christian form even while the church was still dealing with Legalism.
The word Gnosticism comes from the Ancient Greek “gnosis” meaning knowledge. This heresy first shows up in a number of ancient religions which taught that people should shun the material world and embrace the spiritual world. Gnostic ideas influenced many religions, including Christianity. Gnosticism is basically a pendulum swing away from the first heresy, legalism. Where the Judaizers combined Jewish practice with Christianity, Gnosticism combined pagan philosophy with Christianity. The Judaizers were holding on to the past, while Gnostics broke with the past looking to be attractive to the society of their day.... sound familiar?
Ancient Gnosticism is hard to pin down. It requires a “special knowledge” but that special knowledge is never clearly defined, much like today’s New Age movement (which is already decades old, so it is no longer new and therefore has faded from popularity like all fads). Christian varieties of Gnosticism did not really come into full form until sometime in the second century. That is when things such as the Gnostic gospels show up. Christianity survived Gnosticism by confronting it head-on. Many of the early church fathers fought for Biblical truth, laying down their lives rather than compromising their faith in Christ by mixing it with Paganism.
Gnosticism made numerous claims over the years, and as one version was squashed by the church, another would pop up in its place. However, most forms of Gnosticism fall into three categories. Dualism claims that everything in the universe is reducible to two fundamental realities, for example Good & Evil or Flesh & Spirit. Syncretism is the merging of two different systems of belief, for example, modern day Unitarian Universalism, or the beliefs of many Americans who claim to be Christian but will say "all paths lead to God". The last category is Docetism, which claims that Christ only appeared to be human. Modern historic critics make a similar sort of claim when they try to explain away all of Christ’s miracles with human reason, making him an aberration of a collective consciousness or the creation of a deluded individual or individuals. Modalism is another variation of Docetism reasoning that God can only be in one place at one time so he manifests himself as father or son or spirit but not all three at the same time.
Next, we have Arianism: which shows us how heresy can arise from within the church. During a climate of tolerance after Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, Arianism became a movement within the church before anyone rose up to oppose it. This is one of Satan’s favorite tactics; disguising himself as an angel of light. Arianism is an attack on the deity of Christ. The Arians claimed that Jesus Christ was a created being, higher than humanity, but less than truly God. The Gnostic attacked the church from outside the church, but Arianism brought false doctrine to the church from within. Arius was the heretic for whom this doctrine is named. He devised a view of Christ that made Him a created being, neither divine nor truly human, but a mediator between God and humanity. According to Arius, Christ was the firstborn of all creation, higher than other creatures, but a creature nonetheless. This is exactly what modern Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. Jehovah's Witnesses use the very same arguments Arius did.
The Nicene Creed was the church’s response to Arianism, but it marked the beginning, not the end, of the controversy in the church. After their doctrine was condemned by the council, the Arians pleaded for tolerance, and they succeeded in infecting the church worldwide with their doctrine. Emperor Constantine was frustrated when the Nicene Council was not successful in quelling the Arian controversy, because he wanted harmony in the church to promote harmony in his land. Arianism became so popular that only one man ended up standing against it—Athanasius (the same Athanasius after whom the Athanasian Creed is named).
Although Athanasius stood alone against the majority of the church in his day, his arguments won out, because he employed Scripture skillfully and persuasively to demonstrate the error of the heresy. This episode is a classic example of why Scripture, not majority opinion, is the first and last test of every doctrine. This is why we hold to the Book of Concord as the clearest exposition of biblical truth.
In Christ Pastor Portier
Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #102
Next we have Pelagianism, this heresy is named after the British monk named Pelagius (354-420 or 440) who first popularized the view. Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special divine aid. Modern day Pelagians reject the doctrine of original sin or what Calvinists call total depravity, and they reject the practice of infant baptism. This heresy leads to works righteousness or partial works righteousness known as Semi-Pelagianism.
Pelagius and Augustine were opponents and this controversy they were involved in some of the very same debates Calvinists and Armenians have today. Pelagius was motivated by a concern to elevate human free will, because he was (wrongly) convinced it was the only way to preserve human responsibility. Augustine defended the sovereignty of God, because he (rightly) knew it was the only way to preserve the centrality of divine grace in salvation.
Augustine responded by demonstrating from scripture that the human will is not free in the sense Pelagius taught; our wills are hopelessly bound by sin (Romans 8:7–8). Sinners are utterly helpless to change for the better apart from the external working of divine grace in their hearts (Jeremiah 13:23). The Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned Pelagianism as heretical.
We see modern day versions of this in what is called decision theology, making a conscious decision to follow Jesus before you in essence accept the gift of salvation. Scripture teaches us that faith is a miraculous gift that we cannot take a hold of without the Holy Spirit gathering and enlightening us. Traditional Christian monergist hold that saving faith is the work of God and that is why most monergist baptize infants. Traditional synergist hold that saving faith is something you must choose that is why most synergist do not baptize infants. Monergist would contend that we cannot choose God in our fallen sinful nature and would site Ephesians 2 and Colossians 2 that we were dead in our sins and trespasses. Dead beings can choose nothing. We also see works righteousness in the sacrament of penance (Roman Catholic) in some way adding to what Christ did for us on the cross. This heresy has a lot in common with the ladder of feelings mentioned a couple of lessons ago. The Holiness movement, and revivalism are at their root Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian.
Finally, Socinianism is a system of Christian doctrine named for Fausto Sozzini (Latin: Faustus Socinus), which was developed among the Polish Brethren in the Minor Reformed Church of Poland during the 16th and 17th centuries, and embraced by the Unitarian Church of Transylvania during the same period. It is most famous for its Non-Trinitarian Christology but contains a number of other unorthodox beliefs.
Socinianism is the culmination of heresy—an amalgamation of all the other heresies—and it is without a doubt the most widespread of all the heresies in our generation. Modern theological liberalism is nothing more than a variety of Socinianism. Rejecting everything Catholic, the Socinians ended up with a doctrine that embraced virtually every serious error that had ever assaulted the church. Like the legalists and the Pelagians, they taught salvation by works. Like the Gnostics and the Arians, they were Anti-Trinitarian. In fact, they denied not only the deity of Christ but also every miraculous element of scripture, just as many do today. They blended the skepticism of the Sadducees with the humanistic rationalism of the enlightenment era, and that combination is what gave birth to this heresy. Modern day Unitarian Universalism is a clear representation of this heresy. This heresy does away with the authority of scripture and makes human reason supreme. Socinians would say that Jesus came to show us how to live not to die for our sins.
Every cult and every false doctrine that exists today has something in common with one or more of the five false doctrines, discussed in this and the two previous lessons. Now you are equipped to take on any serious heretic. So, remember, if you run into any of these garden variety heretics, let them know the church condemned Legalism in the first century, Gnosticism in the second century, Arianism in the third century, Pelagianism in the fifth century, and Socinianism around 400 years ago. Or, just tell them to read the Bible.
The Primary source for these three articles is; Phil Johnson, “Survey of Hericies”
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Smoky Mountain Bible Institute (Est. 2009) Lesson #99
Last month we discussed the second ladder; the ladder of emotions, feelings and enthusiasm. You may be wondering “why ladders?” The answer is that these categorizations of the many incorrect ways in which we strive to reach God or “climb” to him. On to ladders 1 & 3.
Ladder #1: the mind, knowledge about God, we will convince no one about the gospel with our rhetorical skills. However good Rhetoricians (debaters) should use their knowledge to be ready to give an answer to those who ask about the hope you have within you. Trusting more in logic than God himself however makes our intellect god. Even Christians who are good logical debaters can fall into this trap, especially if they have degrees and credentials. Degrees and credentials are good things as long as you do not trust in them above God. If someone tells you that they can prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus is who He claims to be because they have irrefutable proof, proceed with caution. The Holy Spirit, not our mind is the purveyor and giver of saving faith.
Finally Ladder #3: works. “Look at what I am doing; look at all the great stuff Jesus gave me because I am a hard worker for the kingdom and He clearly rewards those who follow His laws and do His will.” This of course does not tell you about Jesus and what He did for you, it tells you how good this “believer” thinks he is. What if I am poor, or my car gets repossessed; what if I lose my job or my home? Does this mean Jesus does not love me and I just need to work harder to earn His blessing? This prosperity or works righteousness gospel falsely teaches that God loves and blesses you based on you and your good works. There are some real problems with this kind of false gospel. Some theological terms for this ladder are “works righteousness” & “preaching prosperity”.
If this were true, then all happy, healthy, wealthy people would be the clearest examples of good Christians, and vise-versa. While this may describe the membership found at some of the more popular self-help, have your best life now kind of “churches”, it is no way to describe a biblical Christian. We might like to think that a life of faith is one of flowers, pleasant smells, soft luxurious clothing, fine furniture, clean, pleasant surroundings, delicious food, fine wines, beer, brats, beautiful women, handsome men, and full bank accounts, but scripture and history paint a very different picture. A life of faith in Christ is one of pain, suffering and endurance. More Christians were martyred for the faith in the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries combined. Christians today are getting their heads cut off all over the world. Some will say the end must be coming soon because it has never been this bad, but there is nothing new under the sun; suffering for the faith is a long-standing reality of a life of faith. Consider Noah, Job, the apostles, and the millions if not billions of others martyred for the faith. Paul brags of all the scars and wounds he has for preaching the faith; not about his fine tent or camel.
One of the church fathers, Tertullian, is quoted as saying “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”, and history bears this out. In times of great persecution, the church experiences great growth. The real Jesus came for, loves, and serves all sinners and tax collectors. It does not matter what side of the tracks you come from. You know you are living right not if you are blessed with material things but if your activities reflect a redeemed life of repentance that seeks to love God and neighbor as best you can with his help.
We all at some level look to these ladders as ways to get to God without Jesus. Ladder #1 is the one I often find myself climbing, because it sure would be nice to be able to prove God is who he claims to be. While there is solid evidence of God in all scientific disciplines, it is not knowledge and evidence that saves, but faith in Christ. You cannot prove God to anyone; only the Holy Spirit can create faith. And reason is but a maidservant to her mistress, faith. As long as the maidservant and the mistress sleep in their own beds they get along nicely. However if the maidservant tries to sleep in her mistresses bed, confusion, idolatry and anarchy are sure to follow. We walk by faith and not by sight, so if your pastor says he can prove to you that God exists, remind him that he cannot. Another recently published book that does a good job of discussing this topic is “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? 12 False Christs” by Matthew Richard.
Till next month,
In Christ, Pastor Portier
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Smoky Mountain Bible Institute (Est. 2009) Lesson #98
Where is Jesus??? In our world today, full of little churches and mega churches trying to sell you Jesus by saying ‘Come over here, we have the Jesus you didn't even know you needed or wanted’, how does one find the real Jesus? Well, first let’s make a typically Lutheran statement..."you do not find Jesus He finds you!" That is all fine and good and true but not very helpful in responding to the constant barrage of trendy Jesus marketing. So, let’s briefly review the three main marketing tools used to sell you a Jesus that is really more about you than the Savior who came to save you. That is what marketing naturally does, appeals to the individual.
The reason for identifying these false Jesus marketing models is to help us to see them in a sort of sea of theological positions. Even those of us who hold to sound biblical doctrine fall into these traps or to put it the way Luther did, the Church is like a drunken peasant that climbs out of one ditch only to stager across the road and fall into another. These metaphors may be a bit of an over simplification, but good books have been written to deal with this topic in detail. I would recommend these three; 1. Broken: 7 ''Christian'' Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible Dec 5, 2012, by Jonathan M. Fisk, 2. Spirituality of the Cross Revised Edition February 1, 2010 by Gene Edward Veith, 3. The Quest for Holiness: A Biblical, Historical and Systematic Investigation August 26, 2004, by Adolf Koberle (Author), John C. Mattes (Translator).
Even if we are aware of the “three ladders” so to speak the great deceiver does his best to disguise falsehoods in a myriad of ways. Trying to get us to focus on our; ladder 1- mind, ladder 2- feelings, or ladder 3 - work instead of our Savior. While it is important for us to keep our focus on who Jesus is, it is also helpful to know who Jesus is not, to avoid putting our focus in the wrong place.
With the eyes of faith, it is as easy to see where Jesus is to be found. Just like looking for Waldo on a busy multi-coloured page. You know exactly what Waldo looks like. His candy cane shirt and hat, the glasses and blue jeans are unmistakable. The true Jesus might make you feel good, He will bless you but not necessarily in the way you wish. Science and history are His friend, but those things are not how you will know Him. You will know Him because He is where He says He will be in His word and sacraments. You can know with absolute certainty that you are a baptized child of God whom He loves more than His own life which He gave on a cross. He regularly nurtures you through His word proclaimed and His (body / bread) and (blood / wine) put in your mouth for your forgiveness. Take comfort in His assurance "Lo I am with you always even unto the end of the world" Amen.
As I said earlier even though we know these truths about Jesus, we will still struggle with these three ladders. The first and most popular ladder is that of the shallow self-centered versions of ‘marketing Jesus’ is the, "Look at how good I feel Jesus". This version of marketing Jesus is easy to identify. Followers talk a lot about Jesus, but Jesus is not really ‘doing’ any of the verbs. This version of Jesus does not talk about what Jesus did for you or what Jesus does for you. The "Look at how good I feel Jesus" follower is always telling you about how Jesus makes you feel. In truth, Jesus does not manipulate our emotions. How we feel is about us, not about Jesus. Emotions are a gift from God and yes, when we sing His praises or listen to His word or read His words or share how He has blessed us, it can and should make us feel good. But those feelings are not Jesus, and they are no indication of how close He is to us. The one who bled and died for ours sins is always close to us no matter how we feel. When I do not feel good Jesus it there whether I feel Him or not. If I do not feel good, if I am grieving, if I am hungry, if I am sick? Jesus is right there suffering with me, tending to my needs through the loving actions of others. Our feelings can fool us into thinking Jesus in not there when we need Him most.
When we are hurting He provides means to assure us of His presence and we don’t have to doubt this truth because his word plainly spells it out. He gives us pastors to proclaim us to be absolved when we confess. He gives us baptism in which he takes ownership of us by putting His name on us, washing us into his death and resurrection. He gives us Bread and Wine that is His flesh and blood, forgiveness we can smell, taste and touch. When we need Him the most, He is there providing the peace He promised. So, if someone tries to sell you a "Look at how good I feel Jesus" say no thanks I am feeling a bit nauseous and I know he is here at my side! The official theological term for this ladder is “Enthusiasm”.
We will have to address the other two ladders next month
Until then have a blessed Summer
In Christ Pastor Portier
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #97
As promised last month, here is our discussion of the ministerial hermeneutical method. I cite a lot of texts in this article, so you may want to have a Bible handy. The main method in this category is called the “Historical Grammatical” method. This method also employs human reason, but only as far as we finite beings are able (acknowledging that we cannot fully comprehend the infinite) and lets God's word have the final say especially when it says things that are illogical to us. This method acknowledges that God is all-powerful and can reveal his truth to us in any way he chooses, and that happens to be his inerrant written word, clearly defined through history and grammar, the Bible. As such, this method produces interpretations that are clear confessions of biblical truth. If your ultimate authority is God's word, then you will acknowledge that all human life is created in his image and is intrinsically valuable. All races, locations, sizes, and conditions of humans are therefore worthy of the highest respect and protection we can provide. We also have the freedom to function within the gifted order of his creation. He put “norms” in place for our benefit and we let his word have the final say no matter how politically incorrect or illogical it may sound.
God gives men and women different roles, like mother, father, husband, wife, or pastor. Scripture attaches gender to each of these roles (see 1 Tim 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-9, 1 Cor 14:33-35, Eph 5:21-26, Col 3:18-19, 1 Tim 2:9-13, 1 Cor 11:3-10, and 1 Peter 3:1-5). History and grammar can help us better understand these things but we cannot redefine what the words mean. To be a pastor, one must be male, rightly called, and ordained. Marriage is defined for us in Genesis as being between one man and one woman. Other scriptural mandates are chastity for all, celibacy for the unmarried, and monogamy and fidelity for the married. These are the gifts of a loving God to us all regardless of our fallen sinful condition.
To say that only God can forgive sins is most certainly correct, and he can do so however he wishes. To that end, he has established means through which forgiveness can be given, including through words spoken in his stead, by his command following confession (see John 20:22-23).
Baptism is a gift from God, even if it does not seem logical. Water and word certainly cannot normally save and give faith miraculously, but scripture tells us that God’s word combined with water does just that (see Matt 28:19; Mark 15:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 2:38-39; 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; Eph 5:26; Titus 3:5-6; Heb 10:22; John 3:5; Rom 6:3-6; Col 2:11-12, and Gal 3:27-29).
The Lord’s Supper is a gift from God, even if it does not seem logical. Bread and wine normally cannot also be flesh and blood and give forgiveness when consumed, but scripture tells us that they can, and they do (see Matt 26, Mark 14 Luke 22, and 1 Cor 11).
As you can see, the “leaves” on these two hermeneutic trees are very different. So, the next time you are sharing your faith with someone and they argue against your “interpretation”, you can politely tell them “yes, and it is also the confession of the universal, historic, Christian faith, so your disagreement is not with me, but with the plain, clear, historic, apostolic exposition of God's truth”. Or perhaps you could just say, “your disagreement is not with me, but God's word”; that might be simpler.
There are much more thorough treatments of this topic available, but this will help define the two main schools of thought which will appear in our discussion of American Trinitarian Christian church bodies. Next month we will begin discussion of the “three ladders” or the “three ditches” we often find ourselves falling into, regardless of our church’s confession. We all struggle with these, but some church bodies have them as part of their public confession of faith.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Smoky Mountain Bible Institute (Est. 2009) Lesson #96
Before discussing church bodies, we must consider a number of issues which define and explain the positions that different church bodies hold. The first and largest divide falls in the area of biblical interpretation. So lets dive into the exciting topic of Hermeneutics.
"That is your interpretation…" Such is often the response I get when I try to share God's truth with others. It is frustrating to get this response when you try to tell someone about God’s truth as you have come to understand it through the help of your family, church and especially the Holy Spirit. When people reject God's truth you can't help but feel a little rejected yourself. In an effort to assist you in this endeavor, lets briefly touch on two topics: Hermeneutics and Evangelism. These two words sometimes elicit reactions of confusion and/or fear among most Christians. Let’s first deal with confusion, so we do not need to run in fear.
Hermeneutics is the#96 branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation of the Bible. When you are discussing the “living out” of faith with your neighbor, you may be using different methods of biblical interpretation, which will mean you will reach different conclusions. Using the metaphor of leaves on a tree, your discussion about a leaf may be confusing because you may be picturing an oak leaf while your neighbor is thinking of a maple leaf. The “leaves” or conclusions are different because they come from completely different trees. It is the same with biblical interpretation. While there are many methods or lenses out there through which people look at God’s word, they all fit into one of two categories: magisterial or ministerial. (I know, two more big words to define, but be patient as I explain how these lead to very different applications and conclusions about the unchangeable truth of God's word.)
Magisterial hermeneutics appeal to human reason over God’s word. The “Historical Critical” method is the main one in this category. The conclusions that this method derives are based on the preconceived notions of those using it. In other words, if God's word says something they do not like or agree with, then they simply use this method to say “I know what it says, but it cannot mean that, so I’ll find a different approach which will produce a result which seems good to me”. This method puts all the authority in human reason, above the revealed truth of God’s word. Most liberal biblical scholars, atheists, and agnostics interpret scripture using methods that fall into this category. What they have in common is the idolatry of the human mind over God's revealed truth. This method leads to a misapplication of biblical principles or just outright denial of any biblical authority at all. If your ultimate authority is the human mind, then you (being a human) can hold the rights of one individual over and above the rights of someone else defined as less than individuals (e.g. those of other races, the opposite sex, those not yet born, those with a lifestyle you do not like, or those with a quality of life you arbitrarily decide is not worth the status of individual with protected rights.) Even those who claim that God’s word is wrong because it condemns their lifestyle.
Those holding to a magisterial hermeneutic also have the freedom to depart from God's word completely and make new rules for themselves and society. To declare “anyone can be a pastor” is to say that call, training, ability, and gender have no bearing on who should fill the role even if scripture says otherwise. To declare “marriage is for any consenting adults at all" is to say that chastity, monogamy, heterosexuality, and fidelity are the products of a manipulative, medieval, patriarchal society, and that the oppressive cultural norms of the past are invalid. To declare “only God can forgive sins" is to say that God’s biblical directive to the church through Peter to forgive sins (Mt 16:19; 18:15–20; Jn 20:22–23; Rv 1:18) does not mean what it says. To declare "baptism and the Lord’s Supper are acts of obedience" is to say that it is not logical that water and word can save or that bread and wine can be flesh and blood. Many “conservative” Christians would agree with scripture on most of the things in this paragraph but each of them is an example of an appeal to reason over scripture, and this is what leads to error.
I am afraid we have run out of space for this month, so we will pick up our discussion next month with the ministerial approach. Until then have a blessed Easter season.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #95
We are going a different direction with the institute this month. I have been working on a book for quite a few years that is designed to answer the question, “Why are there so many Christian church bodies?” That, of course, is a very complex question, requiring a very complex answer. So for the foreseeable future here at the institute we will begin to work on that question. The title of the book will be “Departures”.
Why “Departures”? In my previous career in the United States Navy I spent over a decade assigned to ships. When ships prepare to get underway they schedule a departure time. Departure times apply to planes, trains and busses as well. As I started visiting with people and explaining to them what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess, I found that I spent a lot of time explaining to people the differences between Lutherans and other Trinitarian Christian church bodies. Having to regularly answer these questions led to much research while I looked for concise ways to describe these differences.
In the process of answering these questions, I found myself using the words “depart” and “departure” quite regularly. In trying to show the difference I would explain how our confessions were a clear exposition of Biblical truth while the positions others held were in some way a “departure” from what scripture clearly teaches. It is my hope that a series of articles could eventually be used as a quick reference tool for both pastors and laity to see how some doctrinal positions depart from scripture.
In order to do this, I will address many Trinitarian Christian church bodies in America coming from 15 different traditions. This will be by no means an exhaustive treatment of the over 230 church bodies in America, however, every Trinitarian Christian church in America falls into one of these 15 different traditions and those not addressed will be listed at the end of that section.
It would be impossible to address the different beliefs of all Christians because many people do not even understand or agree with the complete doctrinal position of the church bodies they claim to be members of. I will, however, address the public confessions of official church bodies and how their doctrinal positions depart from scripture. I will in each case cite the biblical position against the departure. I will address each of these church bodies in 20 doctrinal categories. Hermeneutics (biblical interpretation), each of the 10 Commandments, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Prayer, Baptism, Forgiveness, Communion, Ordination, and Family. I propose that the ways Trinitarian Christians depart from scripture in these 20 areas fall into three categories (3 ladders) and have something in common with the five historic heresies. This will be explained in the articles that deal with each church body.
I will not address American church bodies that are not Trinitarian in accord with the historic creeds; for example, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, or Muslims. A common nautical term for a good ship is a “tight ship”, because when a wooden ship is new, all the seams and joints are properly fitted and caulked; the water then causes the wood to swell, and the ship does not creak or leak because she is a “tight ship”. When we are out there in the world, taking in our lines from the pier of the church to get underway and live our lives in a way that reflects well our Lord and redeemer, it is helpful to have a doctrinal “ship” of sorts that is tight. If I understand what God’s word teaches, it is helpful in strengthening me to boldly live my faith in the presence of others. When a tight ship is underway she must also have defensive measures to protect herself against being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:14) The best way to build a solid foundation is to read and be well versed in scripture and its clearest reduced explanation Luther’s Small Catechism. I am not claiming that those who hold to these departures are in any way lesser Christians, but departures from biblical truth are harmful, not helpful, to those who hold them. It is my hope that this humble project will be of some assistance to the church in defense against biblical positions that are in error and will be edifying to God’s people on both sides of the discussion.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #94
We last left off in 1580 with the Book of Concord, which was published for the first time in Dresden. This book is the confessional standard for all orthodox Lutheran church bodies. LCMS pastors publicly commit to teach in accord with its confessions at their ordinations and installations. All LCMS congregations also have an unalterable article in their constitution that commits them to teach in accord with the Book of Concord’s confessions.
That being said, a lot has happened in church history over the past 438 years. Here is a smattering of significant events as I see them from the 16th century (1500s) to the present.
In 1525, the Anabaptist (re-baptism) movement began. They were considered part of the radical reformation, rejecting baptismal regeneration and the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s supper. Ulrich Zwingli is often misidentified with this group because he did not believe in the real presence, however, he did believe in baptismal regeneration and infant baptism.
In 1529, King Henry the 8th of England began a break from the Roman Catholic Church, and after a number of parliamentary acts (the final being 1534), the Church of England (COE) was established with the King being given the title “Supreme Head of the Church of England”. Initially, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church were doctrinally very similar. Over time, however, some protestant reforms became part of COE doctrine, developing over time into what we know today in America as the Episcopal or Anglican churches. A number of church bodies can trace their roots to the COE: Puritan, some Baptist, Methodist, Quaker, Unitarian, Universalist.
In the late 1530s, John Calvin began his reform efforts, publishing his institutes in 1536. Having been born in France, he spent much of his adult life in Strasburg and Geneva. Reformed, Presbyterian, Unitarian /Universalist, Pentecostal, and many other church bodies can trace their roots to John Calvin.
In the 1600s, the many Baptist, Puritan, and Presbyterian churches became what is known as congregationalist. The polity of the LCMS is heavily influenced by congregational practices.
In the early 1800s, the Adventist and Holiness movements splintered from Methodism, and later in the early 1900s, the Pentecostal movement splintered from the holiness movement.
In 1854, Rome established the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and in 1870, the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. However, Papal Infallibility is only said to apply when the Pope makes a doctrinal proclamation Ex cathedra (Latin for “from the chair”), meaning the seat or throne of authority.
While Eastern Orthodoxy has about 14 self-governing bodies that are all doctrinally very similar, the western Christian church is split into many. About half of the world’s Christians claim to be Roman Catholic, but the rest of Christianity is in as many as 25,000 denominations.
That will wrap up our discussion of history. The next topic I had planned on addressing was the social sciences, then theology, but this discussion of so many Christian church bodies makes me think that you may wonder more about them and their differences, so I think we will begin to address that question next month and see where it takes us.