Friday, August 3, 2012
God and His Rivals, Part 1
God has, in our culture, become an idea. Once there was a time in the west when God was considered a transcendent being that dwelt outside of the universe. He had created all and was the giver of life, but was not a part of the created order. God, the First Cause, eternally existed. There were only two options to choose from, and in fact still are to explain the issue of origins: an eternal God or an eternal material universe; one or the other had to have always been. Somehow, someway, science assures us, things began. There was a time when the clock began to tick; time and matter had a beginning so says the scientific community. Did the universe bring itself into existence, or was there a presence, an intelligent, willful being with an intention and desire back of all that we see? If so, who is this presence, and how can we even know if such a First Cause exists?
It is pointless to suggest the generic answer of God as the First Cause and then cease. If God is in fact the beginner of this universe, who is he/she/it, where did they come from, why have they created this physical universe and people it with us, and what do they want from us? As we shall see the word God needs serious definition before any meaningful dialogue can occur. The word is a container that tends to hold a million contrary ideas and opinions, no matter how far-fetched. God is a catch-all title that needs clarification. In the market place of ideas the Christian God has many rivals vying for the attention and affection of the public. Let us view just some of them.
Jehovah, the God of the Watchtower:
Jehovah is the God of Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah of the Watchtower is strictly monotheistic; He has no son. Christ is a created being, Michael the Arch-angel, while the Holy Spirit is the active energy force of Jehovah, without identity. Christ’s sacrifice was not an act of propitiation to pay for mankind’s sins; it was a demonstration of perfect obedience to God’s law. Through rigid obedience Jehovah’s Witnesses will be accepted by Jehovah and be given a place on Paradise Earth after they die. Heaven is already filled with the 144,000 spirit brothers who will not receive a physical body but shall be spirits and reign with Christ. Paradise Earth will be relegated for those who did not go to Heaven. At the resurrection Jehovah will recreate the faithful from His memories (when you die your identity is annihilated) and give you a physical body to inhabit for the thousand year reign of Christ. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross purchased a “second chance” to be obedient to Jehovah during this time; the faithful who side with Jehovah over Satan will be rewarded with eternal life; all else (including Satan and his demons) will be annihilated.
The Christ of Roman Catholicism:
The Catholic Jesus is consistently a suffering deity perpetually crucified through the bloodless sacrifice of the mass or playing the role of subordinate to his mother, Mary; she is the mother not of Jesus’ earthly body in Catholic teaching but the mother of God and bequeathed with all of his titles. Jesus is not a savior as defined in the Bible according to Rome; the Catholic Jesus actually saves no one. Original sin is removed (the sin inherited from Adam) by infant water baptism and this initiates one into the Roman Church. A round of rituals, liturgy, repetitious prayer, submission to the clergy and sacraments become the means of salvation as one works to remain in the good graces of the Catholic Church; graces (yes, plural) that Jesus bestowed on this physical church to dispense by the faithful participation of its adherents. Failure to submit to Rome results in excommunication, a mortal sin that results in damnation no matter one’s former standing in the church. Jesus does not enter into the equation when one is called upon to expiate the guilt of one’s sins, either. Physical suffering, confession, acts of penance (Well-known examples of far-reaching errors include the whole system of Catholic “penance,” drawn from the Vulgate’s “do penance”...when the Latin should have followed the Greek—), and finally Purgatory are required to purge a sinner of their guilt and make them fit for Heaven.
The God of Mormonism:
Joseph Smith’s God was a man long eons ago that worked his way to godhood and earned the right to create his own universe and earth, and then people it with spirit children through the many wives he had. Jesus is on his way to becoming like the Father, just as the “Father” was once like Christ on another planet in some distant time. All Mormon men are working toward this end, to become a god so they can create their own planet and people it with children begotten from their many wives. Jesus’ uniqueness is eroded into nothingness essentially, and like the Jehovah’s Witnesses he is basically an example to Mormons on how to achieve their goal. The Holy Spirit is again an energy source devoid of personality. Joseph Smith eclipses Christ in Mormon theology and essentially replaces him. God in Mormon theology is nothing more than an evolved man who worked his way there; all men have the potential to become like God. This is the heart of the infamous Mormon slogan “ is, ; is, may .”
All three of these pseudo-Scriptural cults derive a measure of their vaunted authority from the Bible. The Watchtower claims that only Charles Taze Russell and his successors have properly understood it. The RCC claims that only the magisterium can understand and properly interpret Scripture, and that tradition undergirds and compliments it, putting man’s additions on par with God’s word, often eclipsing it. Mormonism claims to have its roots in the Bible, but the Book of Mormon and later writings supersede Scripture and ultimately replace it. All three cults fall under the condemnation of teaching what Paul called, “another gospel,” Galatians 1:6-9. The accusation Paul makes in Galatians is extremely strong, highly judgmental, and entirely universal in scope. He dares to say that if anyone presupposes their own God in addition to, or in replacement of, the Biblical gospel of Jesus Christ, they are accursed: cut off from God. In reality they are idolaters, for they have concocted their own god and bowed down to him in defiance of God’s revelation of Himself.
I understand the strong indictment I have just made and intend to pursue this line of thought through Scripture, as we bring forth the character of the Biblical God and contrast Him to the idols of the nations. Man invents religion to replace God and relegate Him to a safe corner where He can do very little harm or interfere. As such we would expect world religions to basically dissolve into human effort to reach Heaven, Nirvana, perfection, unity, or whatever term we concoct. The gospel of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ demonstrates a God who became a man and walked among men and eventually died for them to make an atonement that no amount of human effort could effect or contribute to. This is the God Scripture presents, but is this the true God? Prayerfully, let us continue to define the nature and character of God as we search for an answer that will satisfy the longings of the human heart and lay to rest the fears of falling short in our efforts to reach God by our merit.
Part of the good news of the gospel, after all, is that God came down from Heaven to reach us by virtue of His merit; that is the definition of grace in the Bible. It literally means “to stoop or bow down.” We don’t deserve God’s attention; He is not impressed by what we attempt to do “for Him” though in fact we’re doing it ultimately for us to pay our way to life eternal. But Jesus promised eternal life as a present possession to anyone who came to Him by faith, and this dynamic alters why a believer would act on God’s behalf. The selfish desire to struggle to maintain an enduring relationship with God is removed. God establishes this relationship with us through Christ when we trust in His Son for eternal life and forgiveness of sin. We are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Galatians 3:26. As a son, adopted by God through faith in Christ’s sacrificial offering, our reason for serving God no longer involves us directly. The question of our sonship, whether we shall endure to eternal life, is settled by Christ, who grants life that cannot be taken away and shall never perish, Romans 8:38-39; John 10:28.
If we simply trust that what Jesus has done for us is sufficient for the Father and to determine where we shall spend eternity then we can press on in our spiritual walk and become useful vessels that God can fill with His Spirit. We become entirely extroverted in our spiritual concerns; the eternal welfare of others becomes the issue, rather than internal conflicts of whether or not “enough is enough” as to our round of duties via religion and religion’s pantheon of counterfeit gods. God gives us wisdom to comprehend these things and turn to Christ in faith, accepting that the death He died, He died for you and me; and the payment rendered on the cross satisfied the Father. He testified of this when He resurrected Jesus. He was delivered up (crucified as a payment for sin) because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification, Romans 4:25. In other words, since Christ lives we who believe on Him are justified; we are legally acquitted of our sin and made sons of God. Having touched briefly on the gospel and its implications let us continue exploring the Biblical God and His relationship to us.