Daily Archives: May 12, 2013

Cults and Religions: What is the Baha’i faith?

The Baha’i faith is one of the newer world religions stemming originally from Shi’ite Islam in Persia (modern day Iran). However, it has come to achieve a unique status of its own. The Baha’i faith has distinguished itself as a unique world religion because of its size (5 million members), its global scale (236 countries), its practical autonomy from its parent religion of Islam (there is little blurriness between the two), and for its doctrinal uniqueness being monotheistic yet inclusive.

The Baha’i Faith’s earliest forerunner was Sayid Ali Muhammad who on May 23, 1844 declared himself the Bab (“Gate”), the 8th manifestation of God and first since Muhammad. Implicit to that statement was the denial of Muhammad as the last and greatest prophet and a denial together of the unique authority of the Koran. Islam did not take kindly to such thoughts. The Bab and his followers, called Babis, saw heavy persecution and were part of great bloodshed before the Bab was executed as a political prisoner just six years later in Tabríz, Ádhirbáyján, July 9th 1850. But before he died, the Bab spoke of a coming prophet, referred to as “He whom God will Manifest.” On April 22, 1863 Mirza Husayn Ali, one of his followers, declared himself the fulfillment of that prophecy and the latest manifestation of God. He donned the title Baha’u’llah (“glory of God”). The Bab was therefore viewed as a “John the Baptist” type of forerunner leading up to Baha’u’llah who is the more significant manifestation for this age. His followers are called Baha’is. The uniqueness of this budding Baha’i faith, as it has come to be called, becomes clear in the Baha’u’llah’s declarations. Not only did he claim to be the latest prophet foreseen in Shi’ite Islam, and not only did he claim to be a manifestation of God, but he claimed to be the 2nd coming of Christ, the promised Holy Spirit, the Day of God, the Maiytrea (Buddhism), and the Krishna (Hinduism). A kind of inclusivism is apparent from the early stages of the Baha’i faith.

No other manifestation is said to have come since Baha’u’llah, but his leadership was passed on by appointment. He designated a successor in his son Abbas Effendi (later, Abdu’l-Baha “slave of Baha”) to be his successor. While the successors could not speak inspired scripture from God, they could interpret scripture infallibly and were viewed as the maintenance of God’s true word on earth. Abdu’l-Baha would appoint his grandson Shoghi Effendi as successor. Shoghi Effendi, however, died before appointing a successor. The gap remaining was filled by an ingeniously organized governing institution called the Universal House of Justice which remains in power today as the governing body for the Baha’i World Faith. Today the Baha’i faith exists as a world religion with yearly international conferences convening at the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel.

The core doctrines of the Baha’i faith can be attractive in their simplicity:

1)   Adoration of one God and the reconciliation of all major religions.

2)   Appreciation of the diversity and morality of the human family and the elimination of all prejudice.

3)   The establishment of world peace, equality of women and men, and universal education.

4)   Cooperation between Science and Religion in the individual’s search for truth.

To these may be added certain implicit beliefs and practices:

5)   A Universal Auxillary Language.

6)   Universal Weights and Measures.

7)   God who is Himself unknowable nevertheless reveals himself through manifestations.

8)   These manifestations are a kind of progressive revelation.

9)   No proselytizing (aggressive witnessing).

10) The study of different Scriptures besides simply Baha’i books.

11) Prayer and worship is obligatory and much of that according to specific instructions.

The Baha’i faith is quite sophisticated, and many of its followers today are educated, eloquent, eclectic, politically liberal, yet socially conservative (i.e., anti-abortion, pro-traditional family, etc.). Moreover, Bahais are not only expected to understand their own uniquely Baha’i scriptures, but are also expected to study the scriptures of other world religions. Therefore it is quite possible to encounter a Baha’i who is more educated on Christianity than is the average Christian. Furthermore, the Baha’i faith has a strong emphasis on education combined with certain liberal values such as gender egalitarianism, universal education, and harmony between science and religion.

Nonetheless, the Baha’i faith has many theological gaps and doctrinal inconsistencies. Compared to Christianity its core teachings are only superficial in their commonality. The differences are deep and fundamental. The Baha’i faith is ornate and a full critique would be encyclopedic. So only a few observations are made below.

The Baha’i faith teaches that God is unknowable in His essence. Baha’is have the difficulty of explaining how they can have an elaborate theology about God yet assert that God is “unknowable.” And it does not help to say that prophets and manifestations inform mankind about God because if God is “unknowable,” then humanity has no reference point whereby to tell which teacher is telling the truth. Christianity rightly teaches that God can be known, as is naturally known even by non-believers, though they may not have a relational knowledge of God. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead’ ” God is knowable, not only through the creation, but through His Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit, who leads and guides us and bears witness that we are His children (Romans 8:14–16). Not only can we know Him, but we can know Him intimately as our “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). True, God may not fit His infinity into our finite minds, but man can still have partial knowledge of God which is entirely true and relationally meaningful.

About Jesus, the Baha’i Faith teaches that He was a manifestation of God but not an incarnation. The difference sounds slight but is actually enormous. Baha’is believe God is unknowable, therefore God cannot incarnate Himself to be present among men. If Jesus is God in the most literal sense, and Jesus is knowable then God is knowable and that Baha’i doctrine is exploded. So Baha’is teach that Jesus was a reflection of God. Just as a person can look at a reflection of the sun in a mirror and say, “There is the sun,” so one can look at Jesus and say, “There is God” meaning “There is a reflection of God.” Here again the problem of teaching that God is “unknowable” surfaces since there would be no way to distinguish between true and false manifestations or prophets. The Christian, however, can argue that Christ has set himself apart from all other manifestations and has confirmed his self-attested divinity by physically rising from the dead (1 Corinthians 15), a point which Baha’is also deny. While the Resurrection would be a miracle, it is nonetheless a historically defensible fact given the body of evidence. Dr. Gary Habermas, Dr. William Lane Craig, and N.T. Wright have done well in defending the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Baha’i Faith also denies the sole sufficiency of Christ and of Scripture. Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah were all manifestations of God and the latest of these would have the highest authority since he’d have the most complete revelation of God according to the idea of progressive revelation. Here Christian apologetics can be employed to demonstrate the uniqueness of Christianity’s claims and its doctrinal and practical truthfulness exclusive of contrary religious systems. The Baha’I, however, is concerned for showing that all the world’s major religions are ultimately reconcilable. Any differences would be explained away as:

1)   Social Laws—Instead of supra-cultural Spiritual Laws.

2)   Early revelation—As opposed to the more “complete” later revelation.

3)   Corrupted Teaching or Misinterpretation.

But even granting these qualifications, the world’s religions are too varied and too fundamentally different to be reconciled. Given that the world’s religions obviously teach and practice contrary things, the burden is on the Baha’i to salvage the world’s major religions while dismantling almost everything foundational to those religions. Ironically, the religions which are most inclusive—Buddhism and Hinduism—are classically atheistic and pantheistic (respectively) neither of which is allowed within the strictly monotheistic Baha’i faith. Meanwhile, the religions that are least theologically inclusive of the Baha’i faith—Islam, Christianity, Orthodox Judaism—are monotheistic, as Baha’i is.

Also, the Baha’i faith teaches a sort of works-based salvation. The Baha’i Faith is not much different from Islam in its core teachings about how to be saved except that, for the Baha’i, little is said about the afterlife. This earthly life is to be filled with good works counterbalancing one’s evil deeds and showing one’s self deserving of ultimate deliverance. Sin is not paid for or dissolved; rather it is excused by a presumably benevolent God. Man does not have a significant relationship with God. In fact Baha’is teach that there is no personality in God’s essence, but only in His manifestations. Thus God does not submit easily to a relationship with man. Accordingly, the Christian doctrine of grace is reinterpreted so that “grace” means “God’s kind allowance for man to have the opportunity to earn deliverance.” Built into this doctrine is a denial of Christ’s sacrificial atonement and a minimization of sin.

Needless to say, the Christian view of salvation is very different. Sin is understood as being of eternal and infinite consequence since it is a universal crime against an infinitely perfect God (Rom. 3:10, 23). Likewise, sin is so great that it deserves a life (blood) sacrifice and incurs eternal punishment in the afterlife. But Christ pays the price that all deserve, dying as an innocent sacrifice for a guilty humanity. Because man cannot do anything to unblemish himself or to deserve eternal reward, he either must die for His own sins or believe that Christ graciously died in his place (Isa. 53; Rom. 5:8). Thus salvation is either by God’s grace through man’s faith or there is no eternal salvation.

It is no surprise then that Baha’i faith proclaims Baha’u’llah to be the second coming of Christ. Jesus Himself warned us in the gospel of Matthew concerning the end times: “Then if any one says to you, ‘Lo, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christ’s and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:23–24). Interestingly, Baha’is typically deny or minimize any miracles of Baha’u’llah. His unique spiritual claims are based on self-attested authority, uncanny and uneducated wisdom, prolific writing, pure living, majority consensus, and other subjective tests. The more objective tests such as prophetic fulfillment employ heavily allegorical interpretations of Scripture (see Thief in the Night by William Sears). The belief in Baha’u’llah largely reduces to a point of faith—is one willing to accept him as the manifestation of God, in the absence of objective evidence. Of course, Christianity also calls for faith, but the Christian has strong and demonstrable evidence along with that faith.

The Baha’i faith therefore does not accord with classical Christianity, and it has much to answer for in its own right. How an unknowable God could elicit such an elaborate theology and justify a new world religion is a mystery. The Bahai faith is weak in addressing sin, treating it as if it were not a big problem and is surmountable by human effort. Christ’s divinity is denied, as is the evidential value and literal nature of Christ’s resurrection. And for the Baha’i faith, one of its biggest problems is its pluralism. That is, how can one reconcile such divergent religious without leaving them theologically gutted. It is easy to argue that the world’s religions have commonalities in their ethical teachings and have some concept of ultimate reality. But it is another beast entirely to try to argue unity in their fundamental teachings about what the ultimate reality is and about how those ethics are grounded.[1]

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

The End Times: Surviving the end times—what do I need to know?

Oftentimes people experience anxiety when they think about the future; however, it does not have to be that way. For those who know God, thoughts concerning the future bring about eagerness and comfort. As an example, describing a woman who knows and trusts God, Proverbs 31:25 says: “She smiles at the future”.

The two key thoughts to keep in mind about the future are, first, God is sovereign and in control over everything. He knows the future and absolutely controls what will happen. The Bible says, “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’ … Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isaiah 46:9–11, emphasis added).

The second thing to remember about the future is that the Bible outlines in specific details exactly what will occur in what Scripture calls ‘the end times’ or ‘latter days’. Because the Bible is God’s revelation to humankind, and because God knows and controls the future (as Isaiah says above), then it stands to reason that when the Bible speaks about what will occur in the future, we can believe it. Concerning predictions about the future, the Bible says: “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). This truth is made evident by the fact that, unlike supposed prophecies made in other religions or by individuals who said they could predict the future (e.g. Nostradamus) that did not come true, the Bible has never once been wrong—every time the Bible has predicted a future event, it happened exactly as Scripture said it would.

When considering how to understand and survive in the end times, three key questions need to be answered:

1.   How should I interpret what the Bible says about the future (Biblical prophecy)?

2.   What does the Bible say will happen in the end times?

3.   How should what the Bible says about the future effect the way I live today?

How to Interpret Biblical Prophecy
There are a number of opinions and viewpoints that surround what interpretative methods students of the Bible should use when reading passages in Scripture that concern the end times. While there are good people espousing different beliefs, there is good evidence to believe that biblical prophecy should be interpreted (1) literally; (2) with a futurist view; (3) in what is called a ‘premillennial’ manner. With respect to a literal interpretation, it should be understood that there are some 300 prophecies that concern the first coming of Christ, all of which were literally fulfilled. The predictions surrounding the Messiah’s birth, life, betrayal, death and resurrection were not fulfilled allegorically or in a spiritual manner. Jesus was literally born in Bethlehem, performed miracles, was betrayed by a close friend for 30 pieces of silver, was pierced in his hands and feet, died with thieves, was buried in a rich man’s tomb, and was resurrected three days after his death. All of these prophecies were predicted hundreds and thousands of years before Jesus was born and were literally fulfilled. And while indeed there is symbolism used in various prophecies (e.g. dragons, horsemen, etc.) all of them portray a literal being or event, in much the same way that Jesus is spoken of as a lion and a lamb.

Regarding a futurist view, the Bible clearly states that prophetic books like Daniel Revelation contain not only renditions of past, historical events, but also things that will happen in the future. When John was given his commands for the churches of his day, he then received his visions concerning the futuristic things that would occur in the end times and was told: “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things” (Revelation 4:1, emphasis added).

But perhaps even a stronger argument for a futurist view revolves around the promises God made to Abraham (cf. Genesis 12 & 15) concerning the land of Israel. Since God’s covenant with Abraham was unconditional, and His promises have not yet been fulfilled to the Israelis people, then a futurist view of Israel and the prophecies surrounding the people of Israel’s return and possession of Palestine must occur.

Lastly, with respect to prophecy being interpreted in a ‘premillennial’ manner, this means that Jesus Christ will return and then reign over the earth for 1,000 years in a perfect rule. Five times in Revelation 20, the Scripture says that Jesus will return first and then reign for 1,000 years (hence the name ‘pre’, indicating ‘before’, and ‘millennial’, which means 1,000). There is no reason to take what Scripture says in any other way except that Jesus will first return and then begin a 1,000 year rule over the earth.

But what does the Bible say will happen before then?

What Does the Bible say will happen in the End Times?
Sadly, the Bible predicts a downward spiral of catastrophes, human behavior, and religious apostasy before Christ returns. Paul writes: “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.… evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:1, 13). The world will continue to reject God, His Word, and His people.

Some day in the future—a day no one knows—God will end the Church age which began in the first century on Pentecost (cf. Acts 2) with an event known as the Rapture. This will be when God removes all believers in Christ from the earth in preparation for His final judgments. Of the Rapture, Paul says: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14–18).

The erosion of peace and increase of turmoil that preceded the Rapture will reach epic proportions when untold numbers of people disappear from earth. Such a vacuum will cause panic and scream for a strong leader who will have answers to all the worlds’ questions and problems. The stage setting for this leader has been in progress for some time, as historian Arnold Toynbee has noted: “By forcing on mankind more and more lethal weapons, and at the same time making the world more and more interdependent economically, technology has brought mankind to such a degree of distress that we are ripe for the deifying of any new Caesar who might succeed in giving the world unity and peace.” Out of a revived Roman Empire, one that is organized in a European ten constituency fashion (cf. Daniel 7:24; Revelation 13:1), the Antichrist will arise and sign a covenant with the nation of Israel, which will officially begin God’s prophetic seven year countdown to Christ’s second coming (cf. Daniel 9:27).

For three and a half years the Antichrist will reign over the earth with a false peace being promised, but a peace that is nothing but a trap for the people of the earth as the Bible says: “While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). Wars, earthquakes, famines (cf. Matthew 24:7), and more will escalate until the end Antichrist’s 3.5 year reign when he will enter a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and proclaim himself to be God and demand worship (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:4; Matthew 24:15). It is at that point the Creator and true God responds to the challenge. For another 3.5 years a Great Tribulation will occur such as never before come upon the earth, one which the prophets and Jesus predicted: “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:21–22).

Untold loss of life and destruction of the earth will occur during this period, but also many will come to faith in Christ, yet many will do so at cost of their lives. But God’s sovereign hand will still be in control as the Lord Himself gathers the unbelieving armies of the world together for His collective judgment of them. Of this event, the prophet Joel wrote: “I will gather all the nations And bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat. Then I will enter into judgment with them there On behalf of My people” (Joel 3:2). John records the battle this way: “And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon [Satan] and out of the mouth of the beast [the Antichrist] and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (‘Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.’) And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon” (Revelation 16:13–16).

At this point, the Messiah Jesus will return, destroy His enemies, and claim the world, which is rightfully His. John revelation describes this glorious event in this manner: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh” (Revelation 19:11–21).

After Christ has defeated all the armies gathered in the valley of Armageddon, He will reign for one thousand years in a perfect rule with His saints and fully restore Israel to her land. At the end of a thousand years, a final judgment of the nations and all remaining mankind will occur, which is then followed with either an eternal state spent with God for those who follow Him or an eternal separation from Him for those who do not (cf. Revelation 20–21).

The above are not speculations or possibilities—they describe exactly and precisely what will take place in the future. Just as all prophecies came true and were fulfilled in Christ’s first coming, there is no reason to believe anything will be different with those that speak of His return to the earth.

Given the truth behind these prophecies, what impact should they have on us now? Peter asks the question in this manner: “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” (2 Peter 3:11–12).

The Effect of Bible Prophecy on Us Today
There are four effects that the truths of Bible prophecy should have on us today. The first is obedience, which is what Peter speaks about in the verses above. Jesus continually tells us to be ready for His coming, which could come at any time (cf. Mark 13:33–37) and to live in a way in which we are not ashamed of our lives and behavior.

The second is worship. Because God has provided a way to escape His end time judgments, we need to be sure we receive His free gift of salvation offered through Jesus now and live in gratitude before Him. John shows this in his description of heavenly worship for Jesus: “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

The third is proclamation. The message of God’s salvation and the truth of His second coming need to be proclaimed for all to hear, especially to those who don’t yet believe so they can turn to God and be saved from His coming wrath. Revelation 22:10 says: “And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.”

The last effect God’s prophetic Word should have on us is service. All believers should be diligent about carrying out God’s will and performing good works that are an outworking of the salvation that has taken place in each Christian’s heart. Part of Christ’s judgments will be of the works performed by believers. They do not determine a Christian’s acceptance into Heaven, but show what each believer did with the gifts and opportunities given them by God. Paul says of this judgment: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

All of this can be summed up with the same thoughts that began this article. God is sovereign over all events and people of the world, He is firmly in control of everything, and will bring a perfect end to everything He has started. An old Christian song puts it like this: “All is God’s creation … Fashioned by One hand … Satan and Salvation … Under One command”.

The fact that the Bible is a supernatural book is evidenced by the truth that every prophecy conveyed by it to date has been fulfilled. This being the case, it is reasonable and rational to conclude that what it says about the prophecies for the end times will occur as well. For those who know Jesus and have trusted Him as their Lord and Savior, His coming will be their blessed hope (cf. Titus 2:13). But for those who have willingly rejected Christ, He will be their holy terror (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:8). The bottom line is this: to survive the end times, make sure you are a believer in Christ: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).[1]

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Apologetics and Worldview: Is faith in God a crutch?

Jesse Ventura, former governor of Minnesota (as well as former professional wrestler), once said: “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers.” Agreeing with him is pornographer Larry Flynt who commented: There’s nothing good I can say about it [religion]. People use it as a crutch.” Ted Turner once simply said: “Christianity is a religion for losers!” Ventura, Flynt, Turner, and others who think like them view Christians as being emotionally feeble and in need of imaginary support to get through life. Their insinuation is that they themselves are strong and in no need of a supposed God to help them with their lives.

Such charges and accusations bring a number of questions: Where did such thinking start? Is there any truth to it? And lastly, how does the Bible respond to such assertions?

Is faith in God a crutch?—The Impact of Freud
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) was an Austrian neurologist who founded the practice of psychoanalysis, a system espousing the theory that unconscious motives dictate much of human behavior. Though championing atheism, Freud admitted that the truth of religion could not be disproved and admitted that religious faith has provided comfort for untold numbers of people down through history. However, Freud thought the concept of God was illusionary. In one of his religious works, The Future of an Illusion, he wrote, “They [believers] give the name of ‘God’ to some vague abstraction which they have created for themselves.”

As to the motivation for creating such illusions, Freud believed two basic things: (1) people of faith create a god because they have strong wishes and hopes within them that act as comfort against the harshness of life; (2) The idea of God comes from the need for an idyllic father figure that eclipses either a non-existent or imperfect real father in the life of a religiously-minded person. Speaking of the supposed wish-fulfillment factor in religion, Freud wrote: “They [religious beliefs] are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind. We call belief an illusion when a wish-fulfillment is a prominent factor in its motivation and in doing so we disregard its relation to reality, just as the illusion itself sets no store by verification.”

For Freud, God was nothing more than a psychological projection that served to shield an individual from a reality they do not want to face and cannot cope with on their own. After Freud came other scientists and philosophers who asserted the same thing and said that religion is just an illusion/delusion of the mind. Robert Pirsig, an American writer and philosopher who typifies Freud’s followers, has said: “When one person suffers from a delusion, it’s called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it’s called religion.”

What about the above charges? Is there any truth to the assertions made by Freud and others?

Examining the Claims of the ‘Crutch Crowd’
When making an honest examination of these claims, the first thing to recognize is what those making the assertions are claiming about themselves. Deriders of religion are saying that Christians are prone to psychological and wish fulfillment factors that they, the skeptics, are not. But how do they know that? For example, Freud saw the need for a Father God as an outworking of emotionally needy people desiring a father figure, but could it be that Freud himself had an emotional need for no father figure to exist? And perhaps Freud had an outworking of wish fulfillment that manifested in not wanting a Holy God and judgment in the afterlife to exist, a wish for hell not to be real. Demonstrating the plausibility of such thinking is the writing of Freud himself who once said: “The bad part of it, especially for me, lies in the fact that science of all things seems to demand the existence of a God.”

It would seem reasonable to conclude, as Freud and his followers have argued in their position, that the only way a person could overcome “demanding” black-and-white evidence of something is by creating an illusionary hope that overpowers the verifications of God’s existence, and yet they do not consider this a possibility for them. Some atheists, however, have honestly and openly admitted this likelihood. Serving as one example, atheist Professor/philosopher Thomas Nagel once said: “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and naturally hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope that there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

Another consideration to keep in mind is that not all aspects of Christianity are comforting. For example, the doctrine of hell, the recognition of humankind as sinners who are unable to please God on their own, and other similar teachings are not of the warm-and-fuzzy kind. How does Freud explain the creation of these doctrines?

An additional thought that springs from the above question is why, if humankind merely invents the concept of God to make itself feel better, would people fabricate a God who is holy? Such a God would seem to be at odds with people’s natural desires and practices. In fact, such a God would seem to be the last type of god they would come up with. Instead, one would expect people to create a god that nods in agreement with the things they naturally want to do instead of opposing the practices that they themselves (for some reason yet to be explained) label as ‘sinful’.

One last question is how do the ‘crutch’ claims explain people who initially were hostile to religion and did not want to believe? Such people seemingly had no wish or desire for Christianity to be true, yet after an honest examination of the evidence and an acknowledgement of its ‘realness,’ they became believers. English scholar C. S. Lewis is one such person. Lewis is famous for saying there was no more reluctant convert in all of England than himself, that he was literally dragged kicking and screaming into the faith, which is hardly a statement that one would expect from a person engaged in a wish-fulfillment fantasy.

These issues and questions seem to be at odds with the claims of the ‘crutch’ crowd, and are conveniently ignored by them. But what does the Bible have to say about their claims? How does it answer their charges?

Is faith in God a crutch?—How Does the Bible Respond?
There are three core responses that the Bible makes to the claim that people have invented the idea of God as a crutch for themselves. First, the Bible says that God created people for Himself and designed humankind to naturally desire a relationship with Him. Of this fact, Augustine wrote: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” The Bible says that humankind is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). This being true, isn’t it reasonable to believe that we feel a desire for God because we have been created with this desire? Shouldn’t a divine fingerprint and the possibility of relationship between creature and Creator exist?

Second, the Bible says that people actually act in the reverse way from that which Freud and his followers claim. The Bible states that humankind is in rebellion against God and naturally push Him away instead of desiring Him, and that such rejection is the reason the wrath of God comes upon them. The reality is people naturally do everything they can to suppress the truth about God, which is something Paul wrote about: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:18–22). The fact that God is clearly evident in creation to all, as stated in Paul’s words, is nicely summed up by C. S. Lewis who wrote: “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him.”

Freud himself admitted that religion was ‘the enemy’ and this is exactly how God depicts humankind before being spiritually enlightened—as the enemies of God. This is something Paul also acknowledged: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10, emphasis added).

Third, the Bible itself states that life is difficult, hardships are common, and a fear of death is experienced by all. These are truths that are easily seen in the world around us. The Bible also says that God is there to help us get through hard times and assures us that Jesus has overcome the fear of death. Jesus Himself said, “In the world you have tribulation,” which speaks to the fact that difficulties in life exist, but He also followed it up with “but take courage” and said His followers should look to Him for ultimate victory (John 16:33).

The Bible says that God cares for and helps His people and that He commands His followers to help one another as well and bear each other’s burdens (cf. Galatians 6:2). Speaking of God’s concern for people, Peter wrote: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7, emphasis added). Jesus’ famous statement also speaks to this fact: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

In addition to daily help, the fear of death has also been overcome by Christ. Through His resurrection, Jesus proved that death has no power over Him, and God’s Word says that Christ’s resurrection was a proving for the resurrection and eternal life of all who put their trust in Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20). The release from the fear of death is a truth proclaimed by the writer of Hebrews who said: “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself [Jesus] likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14–15, emphasis added).

So, indeed, the Bible speaks about God’s care, concern, and help for His creation. Such truth does indeed bring comfort, but it is a comfort that it is grounded in reality and not mere wish-fulfillment desire.

Is faith in God a crutch?—Conclusion
Jesse Ventura was wrong when he said that religion is nothing more than a crutch. Such a statement speaks to the prideful nature of man and epitomizes the type of people rebuked by Jesus in the book of Revelation: “You say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

Instead of affixing a “crutch” label upon the Christian, the wish-fulfillment claims of Freud, Ventura, and others only act as an indictment against them and showcase their desire to reject God and His claim to their lives, which is exactly what the Bible says fallen humankind does. But to these same people, God asks that they recognize their true desires and offers Himself in the place of the false hope of humanism that they cling to.

The Bible’s statements regarding the fact and evidence of Christ’s resurrection brings about comfort and real hope—one that does not disappoint—and instructs us to walk in a way that trusts God and recognizes our true ‘weak’ position before Him. Once that is done, we become strong, just as Paul said: “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).[1]

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Eternity: How can I know for sure that I will go to Heaven when I die?

Do you know for certain that you have eternal life and that you will go to Heaven when you die? God wants you to be sure! The Bible says: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Suppose you were standing before God right now and He asked you, “Why should I let you into Heaven?” What would you say? You may not know what to reply. What you need to know is that God loves us and has provided a way that we can know for sure where we will spend eternity. The Bible states it this way: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

We have to first understand the problem that is keeping us from Heaven. The problem is this—our sinful nature keeps us from having a relationship with God. We are sinners by nature and by choice. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We cannot save ourselves. “For by grace are you saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves—it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). We deserve death and hell. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

God is holy and just and must punish sin, yet He loves us and has provided forgiveness for our sin. Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus died for us on the cross: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Jesus was resurrected from the dead: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

So, back to the original question—“How can I know for sure that I will go to Heaven when I die?” The answer is this—believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). “To all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). You can receive eternal life as a FREE gift. “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). You can live a full and meaningful life right now. Jesus said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). You can spend eternity with Jesus in Heaven, for He promised: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am” (John 14:3).

If you want to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and receive forgiveness from God, here is prayer you can pray. Saying this prayer or any other prayer will not save you. It is only trusting in Jesus Christ that can provide forgiveness of sins. This prayer is simply a way to express to God your faith in Him and thank Him for providing for your forgiveness. “God, I know that I have sinned against You and am deserving of punishment. But Jesus Christ took the punishment that I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. I place my trust in You for salvation. Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness! Amen!”[1]

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Christianity: Are many practices and traditions in Christianity actually pagan in origin?

In their 2008 book Pagan Christianity, authors Frank Viola and George Barna present the surprising origins of many of the practices commonly found in churches today. The authors claim that many common church practices / traditions actually have their roots in paganism (non-Christian religions), not in the Bible. But is it accurate to claim that the practices of modern Christianity are pagan? Is what typically occurs in a church supported by what the Bible teaches about the church?

Many Christians recognize that some pagan ideas and practices have infiltrated the Christian church. Sadly, much of what Jesus Christ abolished by His death and resurrection, the early Christians re-established. Jesus’ sacrifice fulfilled God’s requirements, ending the need for any further sacrifices (Hebrews 7:27; 10:10; 1 Peter 3:18). The early church, due to pagan influences, warped the celebration of the Lord’s Supper into a re-sacrifice / re-offering of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice abolished the need of a formal priesthood (Hebrews 10:12–14), creating instead a “kingdom of priests” (Revelation 1:6; 5:10). The early church, again influenced by paganism, re-established a priesthood that added a barrier between the “ordinary” believer and God (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 9:15). These are just two of many possible examples.

Most Christians wholeheartedly agree that beliefs / practices such as these need to be rejected and the biblical truth upheld. Following are the primary issues Pagan Christianity raises.

(1) The Church Building. The New Testament records the early Christians meeting in homes (Acts 2:46; 5:42; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). Neither Jesus nor the Apostles encourage Christians to build temples / church buildings. In John 4:21–24, Jesus declares that a time is coming where worship will not be tied to any particular location or building. For the first few hundred years of the Christian faith, church buildings were very rare. It was not until Constantine and his succeeding Roman Emperors made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire that Christians began to build temples. In some instances, Christians, with the aid of Roman soldiers, took over pagan temples and “Christianized” them into churches.

Christians building church buildings resulted in multiple problems. First, people began to think of a church building as “sacred space.” This resulted in a separation between what goes on inside a church building, and what takes place outside of a church building. Among some, blatant evil and immorality was tolerated outside of the church as long as behavior inside the church was proper. Second, some people lost the idea of God’s omnipresence. The biblical fact that fellowship with God could be had anywhere was lost, and replaced with the idea that a church building and/or the altar inside a church building was the only place one could connect with God. Third, some people lost sight of the fact that believers in Christ are the church, and instead began to think of the church as the building.

But is the idea of a church building pagan? Since the Bible does not instruct Christians to build church buildings, does that mean it is wrong to have a church building? The fact that the Bible does not command something does not mean the Bible is opposed to that something. The Bible neither encourages nor discourages the idea of Christians meeting in buildings that are specifically designed for corporate worship. The question of a church building is one where it is crucially important to recognize the difference between description and prescription. The New Testament describes the early Christians meeting in homes. The New Testament does not prescribe that Christians should only meet in homes. A church building in which the biblical truth about the church is declared is in no sense unbiblical. The building is not what is unbiblical. It is the beliefs that are often attached to the building that are unbiblical.

(2) The structure of the church. In many churches today, there is a “set in stone” structure for how a service will proceed. The structure changes somewhat from church to church, but the core items remain the same: announcements, corporate worship, meeting and greeting, prayer, the sermon, a closing song. In some churches, the order of service is absolutely unbendable. In other churches, there is some flexibility. Whatever the case, the idea of a church meeting having such a rigid structure is not presented in the New Testament. When a church has such a rigid structure, it can stifle, rather than promote, true worship and fellowship.

First Corinthians 14:40 teaches, “but everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” Order and structure are not unbiblical. Rigidity and legalism are unbiblical. While a church should ensure that its services are reasonably organized, it is unbiblical for a church service to be so structured that it prevents any participation, freedom, or moving of the Spirit.

(3) Church leadership. The Bible undeniably teaches that the church is to have godly leadership (1 Timothy 3:1–13; 5:17–20; Titus 1:6–9; 1 Peter 5:1–4). Sadly, the early church took the concept of church leadership, and due to pagan influences, molded it into a priesthood. While most Protestant and Evangelical churches do not refer to its leadership as priests, in some instances, the pastor/preacher serves in much the same role as a priest. Pastors are expected to do all, or nearly all, of the ministry work. In some churches, the re-introduction of the idea of a priest into Christianity resulted in the biblical identity of all believers being saints, ministers, and priests, being lost. In church leadership, the result can be burnt-out pastors or overly authoritative pastors. The result in the congregation can be passivity and inactivity.

The idea that a Christian can unenthusiastically sing a few songs, lackadaisically shake a few hands, inattentively listen to a sermon, and reluctantly give an offering—and thereby fulfill his/her role in the church—is completely unbiblical. The church is intended to be a place of healthy fellowship, active participation, and mutual edification. First Corinthians chapter 12 likens the church to a human body. All of the parts of the body must be functioning for the body to do what it is intended to do. In some churches today, only the “head” is functioning. And as physiology teaches us, a head cannot survive on its own.

(4) The sermon. The Bible clearly declares that God’s Word is to be taught (1 Timothy 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:2). There is undeniably a place for a godly man teaching other believers in a sermonic / oratory format. One problem is that many churches fall into the trap of one man being the sole teacher. Another problem is when churches, whether intentionally or unintentionally, convey the idea that passively listening to a sermon is all that God expects. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul encourages Timothy to entrust teaching to others who are gifted by the Holy Spirit for teaching. The presence of a non-participatory sermon is not the problem. The lack of opportunities for others to teach and/or the lack of willingness to teach can be a problem. One of the goals of the church is to make disciples, not pew-warmers. Many churches could do a much better job at recognizing the gift of teaching in others and training and encouraging them to use that gift. At the same time, no one should seek the position of teacher unless he really has been gifted by the Holy Spirit, a fact which can be verified by the testimony of others who can give witness to the presence of this gift. In fact, James 3:1 warns us, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

It is undeniable that pagan ideas and practices have crept their way into the Christian church. To varying degrees, every church has practices that are not completely based in Scripture, either in the practice itself or in the understanding of the practice. But again, this does not mean these practices are pagan or wrong. Churches would do well to continually re-evaluate their methods and motivations, to make sure they are biblically solid. While no church practice should contradict Scripture, a church practice does not have to be explicitly biblical to be a viable choice. Nor does a practice not being taught in the Bible make it pagan. A practice having a pagan origin does not necessarily make it unbiblical. The key to avoiding “pagan Christianity” is comparing every belief and practice with Scripture and removing anything that contradicts what the Bible prescribes for the church. For those issues on which the Bible is silent, the church leadership should prayerfully consider whether or not to continue them.[1]

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform

Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (.pdf) is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.

Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo.

This piece of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is aimed at curbing employment of undocumented immigrants. But privacy advocates fear the inevitable mission creep, ending with the proof of self being required at polling places, to rent a house, buy a gun, open a bank account, acquire credit, board a plane or even attend a sporting event or log on the internet. Think of it as a government version of Foursquare, with Big Brother cataloging every check-in.


‘Duck Dynasty’ star: No God, no guns, no show – ‘To remove either of them from the show is unacceptable’

On May 9, Greensboro, NC country station 93.1 The Wolf reported that after receiving complaints over prayers to God and the frequent use of guns on air, Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson said, “God and guns are part of our everyday lives [and] to remove either of them from the show is unacceptable.”


Missional DiscipleSHIFTers: The next new thing

Are you hearing words like “Missional,” “Multiplication,” “Acceleration,” “Church Growth,” “Future Travelers,” and “DiscipleSHIFT?” Then you might have been exposed to the Exponential conference happening in the Purpose-Seeker-mergent Church. Folks, it is everywhere these days. But is it in the Bible?

What this movement is really about, and why so many mainline evangelical churches are getting sucked into this “movement?”


Sacred Cow Series: Tithing

Next up on the “sacred cow” series, an article I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time but haven’t been able to work on; Tithing.   I think this may well be my most controversial article and figure it will generate a lot of negative feedback because it will place me squarely between tithe preachers and their revenue stream, and Christians who are  tithing to “be blessed” and “avoid curses” by “robbing God”.  If there are two areas you tread dangerously, it’s a persons money or their attempts at works-righteousness! But I simply have to write this one because the amount of abuse I’ve seen here is absolutely disgusting.


Doctrine of Salvation: Christ’s Atonement

The Domain for Truth


Please see the last post on the series, “Doctrine of Salvation,” Election

Before I explain to you the various views on the atonement, it is important to keep in mind that one’s understanding of the doctrine of God, Christ, man, sin, and salvation will influence or determine one’s understanding of the atonement.  Since God is holy, he can save sinners from their sins in order to save them.  And since Jesus is God, He can pay for the sins of humanity.  But if one takes the view that Jesus is just a man, then His death has no power to save because he is not God.  Moreover, since the Bible teaches total depravity, that means that man is hopeless and needs a substitute for his sins because man in his imperfect condition cannot atone for sins.

Another important component to keep in mind is the cause of the atonement.  What…

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