Sunday, September 15, 2019

Come Follow Me - 2 Corinthians 8-13

Come Follow Me - 2 Corinthians 8-13

Second Corinthians

Second Corinthians is accepted by almost all scholars as being authentically written by Paul. There is a twist, however. There is evidence that suggests that 2 Corinthians isn’t one letter, but actually two letters that were later combined. Chapters 1-9 focus on harmony and reconciliation. The last four chapters focus on divisions occurring in Corinth. In fact, 2 Cor 2:4 mentions a “sorrowful letter” or “letter of tears” that Paul had written them. Several scholars believe that the chapters 10-13 of Second Corinthians are that sorrowful letter.

In the “sorrowful letter” found in chapters 10-13, Paul discussed his sadness from a visit he made to Corinth, where he was humiliated by others who had obtained power in the church there. In fact, it becomes a polemic defense of his apostleship against those who attacked his authority.


2 Corinthians 8-9 - Be a Cheerful Giver

Corinth was a rich city. It was situated perfectly on the Mediterranean Sea on the main trade routes. Peoples from all over the Roman Empire lived there involved in shipping and trading. It was a center for Roman/Greek religion and learning. Being along the coast, it was also a fertile area for farming.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem was generally poor. Little rain. One of its two main bodies of water filled with salt and lifeless. Generally not fertile. Continually in the path of competing rival nations and power brokers. For Paul, it was important to have the saints support one another. In this case, ask the Corinthians to donate generously to the poor Jewish Christians in Israel.

Paul connects giving with receiving blessings.

"He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows [d]bountifully will also reap [e]bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Cor 9:6-7 NKJV)

 Being a cheerful giver provides us with an important Christian attribute: gratitude. We donate, help and minister, not because we feel a responsibility or imposition to do so, but because we seek to follow Christ. We learn to be grateful for all that God has done for us in blessing us and providing us with the atonement and resurrection. Through gratitude, we then seek to share our blessings with others in need.

2 Corinthians 10-11 - Spiritual Warfare

Paul notes that we do not fight a physical/temporal battle, but a spiritual one. He notes that there are still many that fight against his teachings and authority as an apostle. He notes that he hates to boast about his authority, but insists it is necessary to separate him from those who would take advantage of Paul's absence.

So dangerous are the other preachers that Paul warns:

"But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast.For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works." (2 Cor 11:12-15 NKJV)
Who are some of the false apostles today? What are some of their teachings that sound wonderful to the ears of the wicked, but lead us away from the law of God? How do they oppose the living prophets and apostles?



Paul’s Vision of the Heavens
2 Corinthians 12:2-4

Paul continued to explain his authority and power that God had given him through visions:


“I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
"And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
"How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” (2 Cor 12:2-4)

Most scholars agree that Paul is speaking about himself when he refers to “a man” who was caught up to heaven. Such an experience would show that Paul was worthy of being an apostle of God, and with knowledge of God to share with the people of Corinth.

These verses are perhaps the best in all scripture to denote a separation between paradise and heaven, and that there are levels of heaven. LDS belief is along these lines. For Latter-day Saints, Paradise is the place the spirits of the dead go to as they await the resurrection and final judgment of God. So, when Jesus told the thief on the cross, “today shalt thou be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43) we get a better understanding of what was going on. Jesus went to the “spirits in prison” to preach to them (1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6) - obviously there are two sections to the world of Spirits (paradise and prison). The thief could not have been that day with Jesus in heaven, for Jesus told Mary Magdalene he had not yet ascended up to God (John 20:17), but he could be with him in Paradise, the place where spirits await the resurrection.

Ancient Jews and Christians believed in three or more levels of heaven. Some think these statements referenced the Hebrew belief of a tripartite world: heavens above, earth, and Sheol or hell beneath. And while this may apply, there is definite evidence from early sources of levels within heaven itself, such as the Ascension of Isaiah and other early texts. These describe three, 10, or 40 levels of heaven.

There is an ancient Christian text entitled, “the Apocalypse of Paul”, wherein Paul ascends through the ten levels of heaven. Like Nephi, Moses, the apostle John, and others, Paul is caught up to an exceedingly high mountain. There, he is given a special guide to direct him through the vision. In this case, as with Nephi (1 Nephi 11), it is the Holy Spirit.

Paul tells us:

“Then the Holy Spirit who was speaking with him caught him up on high to the third heaven, and he passed beyond to the fourth heaven.”

The fourth heaven was filled with angels, presided over by the “toll collector” or sentinel. People were judged for their sins, with witnesses and books brought forth to judge them. With the Holy Spirit as his guide, Paul continued through the fifth and onto the sixth heavens.

“Then we went up to the sixth heaven. And I saw my fellow apostles going with me, and the Holy Spirit was leading me before them. And I gazed up on high and saw a great light shining down on the sixth heaven. I spoke, saying to the toll-collector who was in the sixth heaven, "Open to me and the Holy Spirit who is before me." He opened to me.
Then we went up to the seventh heaven, and I saw an old man [...] light and whose garment was white. His throne, which is in the seventh heaven, was brighter than the sun by seven times. The old man spoke, saying to me, "Where are you going, Paul? O blessed one and the one who was set apart from his mother`s womb." But I looked at the Spirit, and he was nodding his head, saying to me, "Speak with him!". And I replied, saying to the old man, "I am going to the place from which I came." And the old man responded to me, "Where are you from?" But I replied, saying, "I am going down to the world of the dead in order to lead captive the captivity that was led captive in the captivity of Babylon." The old man replied to me saying, "How will you be able to get away from me? Look and see the principalities and authorities." The Spirit spoke, saying, "Give him the sign that you have, and he will open for you." And then I gave him the sign. He turned his face downwards to his creation and to those who are his own authorities.
And then the heaven opened and we went up to the Ogdoad. And I saw the twelve apostles. They greeted me, and we went up to the ninth heaven. I greeted all those who were in the ninth heaven, and we went up to the tenth heaven. And I greeted my fellow spirits.”

In this instance, we see there are ten levels or layers of heaven. At least some of them are guarded by sentinels, who question Paul concerning his purpose and require a sign before he is allowed to pass on to the next higher level.

While this series of events may seem strange to most Christians, they make perfect sense to Mormons, whose temple rites include practicing going through levels of heaven and returning back into the presence of God. Speaking of these rites, President Brigham Young stated:

"Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell." (Journal of Discourses 2:31).

Here are some links to ancient texts that show a belief in multiple heavens:

Bibliography

Early Christian Writings on 2 Corinthians: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/2corinthians.html

Wikipedia on 2 Corinthians: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Epistle_to_the_Corinthians

Bible.org’s Intro on 2 Corinthians: http://bible.org/article/introduction-second-corinthians

Ascension of Isaiah: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ascension.html

The Apocalypse of Paul: http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/ascp.html
 
 


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Come Follow Me - 2 Corinthians 1-7

Come Follow Me - 2 Corinthians 1-7

Second Corinthians

Second Corinthians is accepted by almost all scholars as being authentically written by Paul. There is a twist, however. There is evidence that suggests that 2 Corinthians isn’t one letter, but actually two letters that were later combined. Chapters 1-9 focus on harmony and reconciliation. The last four chapters focus on divisions occurring in Corinth. In fact, 2 Cor 2:4 mentions a “sorrowful letter” or “letter of tears” that Paul had written them. Several scholars believe that the chapters 10-13 of Second Corinthians are that sorrowful letter.

In chapters 2-6, Paul attempts to establish himself with the Corinthian Christians, explaining his authority compared to that of others who had arrived in Corinth with claims of authority from elsewhere. He has had a painful visit with them, and wants to show that his love for them is greater than the pain caused during the visit. Chapters 1 and 7 show Paul’s effort to reconcile with the saints in Corinth and to reestablish the gospel in its proper form.

In the “sorrowful letter” found in chapters 10-13, Paul discussed his sadness from a visit he made to Corinth, where he was humiliated by others who had obtained power in the church there. In fact, it becomes a polemic defense of his apostleship against those who attacked his authority.

Problems Corinth has with Paul

The Corinthians had three major complaints with Paul.  Paul's companion, Titus had visited Corinth in his place, and they shared with him these complaints.

First, they couldn't understand his letters (2 Cor 1:12-14). Anyone today who has attempted to study Paul will come out asking, "WHAT????"  His letters bounce all around. His thoughts are often incoherent (just reread Romans as an example). The Corinthians wanted a gospel they could easily understand, but were not getting it from Paul. '

Paul deals with this complaint by discussing his good conduct, as an example of what a Christian should be. Some have thought that Paul was being arrogant in discussing all the things he accomplished. Yet, this is to contrast his efforts from the opposing preachers, a list of things he and his companions had done (we, not I) as servants of Christ.

Second,  on at least one occasion, Paul promised to visit Corinth, but then changed his mind without even letting them know. They felt slighted by the apostle (vv 15-23). He mentioned visiting with them twice, with a trip to Macedonia in between. During his first visit to Corinth, Paul had many struggles with them, and being frustrated, chose to go to Ephesus instead. This complaint has substance, but also shows that Paul had to choose between important and less important visits and works all the time. As Stephen Covey noted in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we must choose between what is important and what is urgent. That said, not discussing the change with Corinth would have left them feeling unimportant and left out: a letter apologizing for the change would have gone a long way to maintain his relationship with them.

Finally, they felt Paul was very domineering and demanding of them. They wanted to make sure he knew they were in control of their own Christian church in Corinth (1:24-2:4). They were likely being encouraged by visiting preachers, who wanted to replace Paul as their leader.

In these verses, Paul feels he's on trial. He uses legal terms to discuss what occurred, swearing to the truthfulness of his account ("as God is my witness"). Paul knew that if he had returned to Corinth, he would have had to discipline them for not repenting and following him. His visit would have made them sad, and there would be no gladness for them.




Spirit of the Law

In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul then urges forgiveness. He understands that his relationship with them is marred, and so focusing on forgiveness of all those who offend, is a path that can repair their relationship.

In chapter 3, he explains the difference between the Letter of the Law and the Spirit. The Mosaic Law does not bring eternal life. A person following the Mosaic Law will die and cannot return to Heaven. Only in following the Law of Christ, born of the Spirit, can a person be reborn and live. Without Christ, there would be no resurrection, not atonement, no mercy, no forgiveness. So, the Letter (Mosaic) Law was dead, as it was useful for this life, but could not save anyone. Only through Christ could anyone hope to be saved.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Come Follow Me - 1 Corinthians 14-16

Come Follow Me - 1 Corinthians 14-16


Gifts of Prophecy and Tongues
1 Corinthians 14

In this chapter, Paul explained that not all gifts are of equal importance. Many of the Corinthian saints were enthralled by the gift of tongues. It may be it was similar to early Kirtland, Ohio, prior to Joseph Smith arriving there. Many members babbled in what they thought were the gift of tongues. One man even bounced around the streets babbling like a baboon! Once Joseph arrived, he immediately gave direction on the gift of tongues and other gifts, ensuring they were given by the Holy Ghost and were done in order.

 The gift of tongues is a good gift for the individual. But without an interpreter, it means nothing to others listening. Only in the instance where the gift of tongues is used to let you speak in someone else’s language is it of great worth to all who listen, such as what happened with the apostles on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

Prophesying, whether of current truths or future events, benefits all who listen. So important is prophesy that an angel told the apostle John, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). As Paul explained with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, without this special witness from above, we cannot know that “Jesus is Lord”.

Jesus, Resurrected
1 Corinthians 15


Obviously there were also contentions in Corinth over the resurrection of Jesus and all people. For the Corinthians, the myriad of Roman and Greek gods meant that such influence would creep into the Christian church. For those worshiping Zeus or the other gods, there was no expectation of resurrection. Instead, the spirit of the person would descend into the bowels of the earth, cross the River Styx, and find oneself in Tartarus, the Underworld. Hades ruled there, and the other gods had no power to save souls. There was no real conception of heaven. One's main purpose in worshiping the pantheon of gods was to hope for blessings from them in this life.

Resurrection of the dead was a foreign and strange concept, even for many of the new converts.

Paul began by reminding them of the many witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. This physical witness was very important in establishing the things he was about to explain. For the Greeks, the concept of Jesus being ignominiously crucified as a traitor to the state, then resurrecting, seemed foolish and impossible.

Paul noted, If there is no resurrection, there was no need for Jesus to ever be sent down to save us. With death, all would end. We would only be worm food, forever non-existent. If there is no resurrection, then our hope in Christ would make us the most miserable of all people, because we would place our faith in a false hope. But Paul shows there was a resurrection, and how it applies to all mankind from Adam til now.

Paul explained in depth how the resurrection of Jesus overcomes death. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (vs 22). Jesus became the second Adam. The first Adam brought about death, so that we may have the experience of mortality, of learning, and of building faith in God. Christ came to overcome the affects of the first and second deaths (Alma 11-12), that we may all live again. The resurrection means that Jesus and all mortals who have ever lived, will have their bodies and spirits restored again, only this time in an incorruptible form. We will never die, be sick, injured, or suffer physical ailments again.

As to the resurrection, we find that there is not one level of resurrection, but levels of resurrected glory:

“There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
So also is the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor 15:40-42; see also 2 Cor 10:1-4)

What we learn from these verses is that God has different levels of reward or glory for those who resurrect. This is also reflected in the ancient Christian book, the Shepherd of Hermas, who saw that each person was given a willow twig to care for. On the day of judgment, each twig was reviewed. They differed in quality: some had not changed, others had buds, some had grown branches and leaves, while a few had also sweet fruit growing. For each there was a place given. For those who produced nothing, they were left out of the castle, but on the grounds of the castle. For those who produced, they were given different rewards within the levels of the castle.

The rods or twigs represented our conversion to the laws of God. As one chose to obey the laws, they changed into ever growing rods of life and beauty. So it is with us. We are rewarded in heaven by what we Become through Christ. As we seek to know Jesus, follow his example, and learn to be Christ-like, we too can receive a glorious resurrection. It isn't a matter of just obeying. It is a matter of choosing to obey. Elder Dale G. Renlund noted:

Our Heavenly Father’s goal in parenting is not to have His children do what is right; it is to have His children choose to do what is right and ultimately become like Him. If He simply wanted us to be obedient, He would use immediate rewards and punishments to influence our behaviors.

But God is not interested in His children just becoming trained and obedient “pets” who will not chew on His slippers in the celestial living room. No, God wants His children to grow up spiritually and join Him in the family business.  (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2018/10/choose-you-this-day?lang=eng)






This is drastically different from what the ancient pagans, or much of the modern world offers us. They offer an end to life. We are offered resurrection, joy and eternal happiness, if we but choose Jesus Christ and follow him to the end.




Bibliography


Shepherd of Hermas, (see Parable 8): http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/shepherd-lightfoot.html

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Come Follow Me - 1 Corinthians 8-13

Come Follow Me - 1 Corinthians 8-13

Food of the gods

In chapter 8, Paul discusses some major issues occurring in Corinth. Being a cosmopolitan city with people from all over the Roman Empire, there were many temples to a variety of gods. Each of these gods had at least one festival a year, and each festival was an opportunity for the people (most of whom were not free Roman citizens) to eat well and eat meat. Paul understood that many Christians ate at these festivals, as a means to have free food, while understanding that the gods were not real deity, but just statues.

However, some Christians still thought that to eat the festival meats was to eat foods  sacrificed to real gods. It caused some members concern to see other Christians eating the sacrificial foods of other gods. This would be especially true of Jewish Christians, who sacrificed at the temple in Jerusalem to God, and then ate of the sacrificed meats at Passover and other festivals.

Paul was concerned that such an example could become a stumbling block to those who were weak in their faith, and so encouraged all members to abstain from eating the meats offered to other gods.

This concept of setting a good example comes from verse 1, where Paul teaches, "knowledge puffs up while love builds up."  We may know that the meat is only meat and that the Roman gods are not real, however the important thing is to have the kind of Christ-like love/agape that we wish to build up those around us.



Selfishness

“Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth” (1 Cor 10:24).

The Corinthians were seeking their own. They had personal agendas, with which they sought to change the church to meet their own desires. They were selfish to the point that it was affecting their relationships within the church, and even within their families.

Paul was forced to give them guidance on the roles of husbands and wives, according to Jewish tradition. That tradition was that all should wear a covering, symbolizing that men are subject to God, and women to their husbands. Such guidance is still followed by some Christian religions, while others have adapted it some to modern times.

“Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” (1 Cor 11-12)

In its Proclamation on the Family, the Church of Jesus Christ teaches that man and woman are equal, having many similar roles, but some that differ as well:

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng)

The Lord’s Supper

There seems to have been a tradition in Corinth, where people would attend the religious meetings of the various temples primarily for a free meal. The Lord’s supper seemed to have been used as a meal by many, and so was causing dissensions.

Paul complained that some were coming to the Lord’s supper only to engorge themselves or get drunk. Back then, it was an actual meal of bread and wine. He insisted they eat at home, and attend the Lord’s supper for the purpose of renewing the covenant with Christ.

“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (1 Cor 11:27-29)

The focus here is: those who partake of the bread and cup must remember the Lord’s sacrifice, and not their bellies. To partake of the blessed sacraments with no thought to the covenant one makes with God causes condemnation, for such a person does not take his covenants with God seriously. For the Corinthians, it became a very serious issue, because many were using the Lord’s supper as a place for food and wine, just as they did with at the pagan temples. Many in our day partake of the divine without first making themselves holy. They profane the sacrifice of Christ’s flesh and blood by their insincere actions and indifference.

Gifts of the Spirit
1 Cor 12

That Paul had to explain to the Corinthians how the Holy Ghost worked with people is telling of how far they drifted from the core Christian teachings. The pagan religions, which led people to worship “dumb idols” also encouraged many to believe Jesus was accursed: the common assumption of those people who were crucified. Yet, Paul insisted that only through the Holy Ghost can a person know that “Jesus is Lord” (vs 3).

With such an understanding, we can see that most Christians have been touched by the Holy Ghost with at least one gift: a testimony of the Savior.

Yet, Paul exclaims there are many different gifts available, all from the same Holy Spirit. And not only Christians, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (vs 7). All mankind is touched on some level by the Holy Spirit. This is not the same as the “Gift of the Holy Ghost” which in its fullest regard means the Spirit becomes a constant companion and guide in all aspects of a person’s life. It does mean that God inspires all mankind, giving them special abilities. And all of these special gifts come from the Holy Ghost.

Most of us know people who seem inspired with wisdom or knowledge. Did Einstein figure out his theories of relativity on his own? Or did God inspire him via the Light of Christ (Moroni 7), enlightening his mind so he could figure out such amazing theories? The ancient Greeks believed mankind was inspired by the muses. We know mankind is inspired by the Holy Ghost.

For those who embrace Christ, Paul seems to suggest a greater level of such gifts of the Spirit. Whether a person is Jew or Gentile, when they embrace Christ, are baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands (Acts 8:18, 19:6), they become a vessel able to receive a greater portion of the Holy Ghost and its powerful gifts.

“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” (1 Cor 12:28)

There is a pattern set forth from Adam on down that helps us see how the Spirit and God’s power work. The pattern begins with apostles and prophets, those holding the priesthood authority to perform ordinances of salvation (baptism, gift of the Holy Ghost, Lord’s supper, etc), establish doctrine, and guide the Church in all things, even as the apostle Paul was now doing for Corinth.

Next, are teachers to explain the doctrines of the church to the believers and those investigating the claims of Christ as Lord. Paul sent this epistle to Corinth with teachers to correct the wrong occurring among the Christians there. Only after the foundation of leadership is established can the miracles and gifts occur in an orderly fashion.

“Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” (1 Cor 12:29-30)

Not all are apostles or prophets. Not all have the gifts mentioned. These are important and necessary things in the Church of Jesus Christ. Without these holy men and gifts of the Spirit, the Church cannot function properly. Both are needed. As apostle Dallin Oaks noted, there are both formal and informal lines of power in the Church of Christ. The informal line is often called by the Protestants the “priesthood of all believers”, or the personal inspiration and guidance given each of us through the Holy Spirit. This is extremely important to our personal salvation and personal growth in Christ.

Yet the formal line of power and authority through apostles and prophets is also extremely important. Paul notes the struggle the Corinthian church was going through, precisely because they were listening to many claims of teachings by a variety of speakers. Yet none of these were apostles and prophets. No Christian prophet or apostle taught the Corinthian Christians to be unchaste, to eat the food of idols, or to be selfish. The key doctrines of salvation had to be established and preached by living prophets and apostles, or as in Corinth, they would sink into apostasy.

“ But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” (1 Cor 12:31)

Many believe that the “more excellent way” is a rejection of the Gifts of the Spirit, a rejection of prophets and apostles, a rejection of miracles. Some even believe it to be a rejection of the commandments. But Paul’s original epistle was not divided into chapters. His most excellent way is found in chapter 13: charity.

Faith, Hope and Charity
1 Corinthians 13

In chapter 13, Paul taught about the greatest gifts we can aspire to as a priesthood of all believers. There are three great gifts, greater than all the others: faith, hope and charity. Of these, Paul explained that faith and hope lead to charity, which is the pure love of Christ (Moroni 7:47-48). When it comes to spiritual things, if we do not have charity, we are nothing. The Celestial Kingdom does not have a long list of commandments. It has two: Love God and love our neighbor. Paul taught that we must learn to have great faith, hope and charity in this life, if we would ever hope to dwell with the Author of Faith, Hope and Charity.

In this world we often confuse the things of most worth for the things that glitter. The Corinthians had their focus on the things of the flesh: sex, food, drink, selfishness and the philosophies of the Roman and Greek idol worshipers. None of these things would make a real positive difference in the world. None would make any difference in the world to come.

Even to give all our belongings to feed the poor means nothing without charity. Why would someone give everything up, if that person did not have charity? What would be the motivation in doing so? Power? Fame? Glory?

Charity is everything that the Corinthian Christians were not. It is long suffering, not selfish, loves truth, hates sin, not given to anger. Only in developing our faith, hope and charity can we ever hope to have our works truly mean something here on earth and in the eternities.

As Latter-day Saints shift from home/visiting teaching to ministering under President Russell M. Nelson's guidance, we must learn that ministering is all about Christ-like love. We are not focused on saving people's souls. We don't make friends for the purpose of converting them, but to love them and minister to them. We can't save them. Only Christ can save people. Only the Holy Ghost can convert them. We can love them. Our responsibility is to love others even as God loves them. In so doing, we build connections that can lead people to Christ and His restored gospel.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Book Review: Bridges – Ministering to Those Who Question by Dale B. Ostler

Book Review: Bridges – Ministering to Those Who Question by Dale B. Ostler

Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question

There are a few books out there that discuss what those with faith crises should do to strengthen their faith and return to activity. David B. Ostler’s book is the first that speaks to church leaders and parents about others’ faith crises, and how to deal with them.

Bridges contains 160 pages of guidance, and 18 pages of notes and resources. There are 11 chapters under three main sections: A Crisis of Faith; Trust, Belonging and Meaning; and Ministering. The chapter headings are:
  1. A Different Time
  2. How Societal Changes Affect Belief
  3. Why People Leave
  4. Confronting Today’s Challenges of Faith
  5. How Faith Changes
  6. Trust
  7. Belonging
  8. Meaning
  9. Key Principles of Ministering
  10. Ministering at Church
  11. Conclusion: Not Walking Alone
Ostler uses a variety of recent studies, including from the Pew Center and LDS scholar Jana Riess, as well as surveys and interviews he’s done with both Church leaders and those who have left the faith.

Those interviewed, who have left the Church, did not leave because of sin. Most were very active, returned missionaries, temple goers. But then something happened that shocked them, or caused them to question a Church practice, its history, or its activities. No one was able to help these members adequately deal with their faith crisis, and so they felt their final option was to leave.

Something very interesting from his surveys is to see just how topsy turvy the results are from leaders and those who have left the Church. For example, when leaders were asked if the Church provides adequate information to help them deal with others’ faith crises, 53% agreed or strongly agreed.
When former members were asked the same question, 99% disagreed! Clearly, there is not a proper connection between leaders’ skills and those struggling with a faith crisis.

The issues that created the greatest reasons for leaving included the very different culture of Millennials, Church history, LGBTQ issues, and Women and Priesthood, Ostler explains each of these issues, using very pertinent personal experiences from those who have left the Church.

Occasionally, our desires to protect the Church and the active members, cause us to attack those going through a crisis, often pushing them away from the Church, with no path to return.  In Bridges, it also happened to a sister, who was a Relief Society president. When Ostler interviewed her, she explained she had a few concerns about the Church’s history, which she discussed with her bishop. The bishop told her not to worry about it, then promptly released her from her calling. When asked by another organization to have her called to assist them, the bishop said she was not worthy to hold a calling.

Such stories (and Ostler provides many of them) reminded me of a General Conference talk Elder Holland gave in October 2018, “The Ministry of Reconciliation.” In his talk, he shares the story of a couple who lost their farm and were starting life anew in the city. In visiting with their new bishop for a temple recommend, the bishop did not believe the brother’s statement that he was a full tithe payer. As Elder Holland put it:
“I don’t know which of these men had the more accurate facts that day, but I do know Sister Bowen walked out of that interview with her temple recommend renewed, while Brother Bowen walked out with an anger that would take him away from the Church for 15 years.” (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2018/10/the-ministry-of-reconciliation?lang=eng )
Ostler gives us tools to understand what happens in the lives of those who have faith crises. He discusses the first 4 of 6 stages of James W. Fowler’s “Stages of Faith Development.” The first two stages are the basics, what we learn in Primary and early development of faith. Stage three usually occurs in the teenage years, or perhaps during a mission. For many members, this is the stage they happily remain in the rest of their lives. However, some hit Stage Four, a faith crisis. It throws them out of Stage Three and into chaos. Nothing is the same. If they survive Stage Four and go onto Stages 5 or 6, they are never the same. They can never return to Stage 3.

I am thankful for that insight. I personally went through a faith crisis of sorts about 20 years ago. I struggled with Brigham Young and Joseph Fielding Smith’s dealings with racism, Church history, Mountain Meadow Massacre, the priesthood ban (and its invented reasons), etc. I did not feel I knew anyone that could help me with such struggles, and so I spent years finding my own resolutions, meanwhile, holding faithful to those things I knew were true. In the end, the Lord revealed insights to me to accept the problems. If you were to ask me now, I would say that Joseph Fielding Smith was a great witness of Christ, and a holder of priesthood keys. Yet, he was also a terrible scientist and even worse Church historian. In other words, I had to deal with their human weaknesses and personal biases.

But many aren’t able to find such solutions. I’m a gospel student of 35 years, and I still struggled. Thankfully, Ostler gives some great tools and advice for leaders, parents, and members on how to properly help those having a faith crisis. His first tool is to learn to listen. Too often, we aren’t listening, but waiting our turn to give advice, counsel, call to repentance, or encourage the person to study harder. Often, what the person really needs is to be heard and loved for who they are in the moment.

Ostler notes the Church has made good strides towards resolving many such problems in the last decade or so. He encourages parents and ward leaders to study the Church’s Gospel Topics essays and discuss them. Sadly, his survey show that many leaders are concerned that using the Church’s Gospel Topics may lead to faith crises. For me, I applaud the Church’s efforts, as such information may prevent many faith crises, as issues are discussed in faithful ways, inoculating our members from the often unfair treatments given by detractors on the Internet. The reality is, as Ostler notes, we can no longer hide our history or teachings from our members. They can either learn the problem moments from us, or from those who want to lead members away from faith and activity.

Ostler taught me a wonderful new meaning and understanding of Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.” He encourages us to not seek being perfect according to some grocery list of commandments, but to reference the whole of the chapter. God gives rain to both the righteous and the wicked, not because they deserve it, but because He is their Father and loves them. We aren’t to be merciful, peacemakers, or pure in heart, because of a commandment, or because others are merciful and peacemakers, but because we follow Christ in being merciful to all, including those who persecute us (whether real or imagined).

The focus isn’t on compelling them to stay faithful, but to build a bridge of love, trust, meaning and belonging. One major thing I got from Bridges is that I cannot save anyone. That is not my job. In trying to save others, we try to compel them to be like us in our version of orthodoxy. Instead, we are to minister to them in love, providing them with what they truly need, even if they choose to leave the Church for whatever reason. How refreshing it must feel to be in crisis, and to have those who should love and accept you, to tell you that they love you regardless of your choices.

Bridges does not gloss over the problems with Church history or current cultural issues. It faces them directly and honestly. It helps us know how to inoculate the members from crises where we can, and embrace everyone regardless of their choices. With what I’ve learned from reading Ostler’s book, I hope to build an everlasting bridge to others.

Bridges is a book that every Church leader and parent should read. While the solutions offered do not guarantee our family and friends will remain with the Church, it will guarantee that there is an open bridge for them available, if they ever choose to cross back over.

Available at:

Greg Kofford Books: https://gregkofford.com/collections/frontpage/products/bridges

Amazon Books

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Come Follow Me - 1 Corinthians 1-7

Come Follow Me - 1 Corinthians 1-7

Corinth and Paul
Corinth was a major sea port on the Mediterranean Sea on the southern portion of Greece. For almost 1000 years it was a major port and city, larger than Athens, until in 146 BC they rebelled against Rome, and the city was levelled. The men were slain, women and children sold into slavery. In 44 BC, Julius Caesar began construction anew on the seaport. In Paul’s day, it was a city that was just over one hundred years old, but so profitable that within just a short time had become a large metropolis once again.

The Athenians looked down upon the Corinthians, slandering them about their sexual perversions. It was claimed that Corinth's temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, had 1000 sacred prostitutes serving at her temple on the top of a1886 foot hill. A Greek verb for fornication is korinthiazomai, which stems from the city’s name.

In the town center were many other temples, including temples and shrines for Apollos, other Greek gods, Asklepios (Apollos’ son, the god of healing), and shrines to the Emperor and his family.

This cosmopolitan city of trade and commerce was one of Paul’s first major mission areas.

Paul formed the Christian Church in Corinth and then spent three years in Ephesus, about 180 miles away. During this time (about 53-57 AD), Paul heard of problems arising in the Church at Corinth, and used this epistle to address them.

Corinth consisted mainly of Greek converts, many of whom tried to bring concepts from their pagan religions into the Christian faith. Being a cosmopolitan city, there would also be external influence from Jews, Gnostics, and the philosophies of the Greeks. The variety of beliefs trying to take over the basic Christian faith were causing huge divisions among the members there. Some scholars believe that only Jewish-Christians or Jewish-Gnostics were the actual rise of problems, but many of the problems occurring included sexual impurity - something unlikely from a member of any Jewish sect.

Paul begins his epistle


“Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God” (1 Cor 1:1).

Why would Paul have to establish his authority and apostleship to a people he had spent at least two years with? Because many had since come claiming authority and power from one source or another. In establishing at the very front of his epistle his authority, he hoped to be able to quell the divisions of those who would teach different things.

“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.” (1 Cor 1:10-15)

Obviously, the Corinthian members were claiming authority from the various missionaries that passed through the area or claimed to have been taught by, including Paul, Peter and Apollos (an early Christian missionary, not the pagan god). Paul was having to compete with a false image of himself! He was glad he only baptized just a few, so none could claim they received their authority from being baptized by Paul.

This shall be a common theme in areas that experience apostasy, and will even be dealt with decades later by the apostle John in his epistles and Revelation. Some members came forth claiming to have additional information or authority, sometimes hidden truths, as the Christian and Jewish Gnostics would claim to have. By the second century of the Christian era, some Gnostic and Christian/pagan groups would become so powerful as to threaten the young orthodox church.

Here, Paul seeks to stop it before it spreads. Explaining the problems he finds with the wisdom of men, he stated:

“For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Cor 1:22-27)

The rich and wealthy of Corinth were not necessarily being called as the leaders of the church. The Jewish-Christians were not necessarily being called as leaders, even though they had a background in the Law. Meanwhile, the Greeks often looked down on the simplicity of the gospel, because it didn’t fit in with their philosophy. Paul was trying to pull all the members back together into unity in Christ and his basic gospel. Paul understood that the gospel was foolishness to Greek philosophers and others. Yet, God would use that foolishness to confound the wicked and save the repentant believers.

So concerned was Paul that he would explain that they were not ready for gospel meat, but only the milk. Their divisions showed Paul that they were still babes needing the basic nourishment, even though others were offering to stuff heavier meals down their gullets (1 Cor 3:1-2).

Paul brought them back to the basics: faith in Jesus Christ, the atonement, repentance, and commandments. As explained in the Bible.org referenced below:

“Basically 1 Corinthians deals with abuses of liberty (just as Galatians deals with the stifling of the Spirit because of legalism). The correction Paul gives is not to question their salvation, but to challenge them in their sanctification. Although the apostle is dealing with several different issues, the general theme of the epistle is “the practical implications of progressive sanctification in the context of the Christian community.””

Salvation vs Sanctification

Salvation in Christ is a free gift. All mankind will resurrect. The only requirement to escape hell is to believe in Christ and repent of one’s sins. However, our degree or level of salvation is determined by sanctification: how holy we become as an individual. The greater our personal holiness and Christ-like abilities, the greater our personal reward and glory in the heavens.

The Book of Mormon notes that all will be resurrected among both good and evil. Then all will be brought to the presence of God through Christ. There, those who have repented and become worthy of Christ’s grace will remain, while those who refuse to repent will suffer from being filthy in God’s presence (Alma 11-12, Mormon 9:1-7).

Paul spends significant time discussing the commandments of God (1 Cor 3) and living by the power of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor 2). The Lord has taught us that as we move from one grace to a higher grace, we receive grace for grace until we receive a fullness of grace (D&C 93, 1 Cor 3:10). Grace is described as the sanctification process that occurs as we progress in the path of righteousness, once we’ve accepted Christ as our Savior. As such, we become sanctified little by little, until we become fully perfected in Christ, meet to receive his greatest rewards.

  Our works are tested to see if we have truly become sanctified in Christ. As Paul explained:
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor 3:13-15).

And the greater the work we have brought forth on what we have truly become, the greater the reward in heaven.

Bibliography

First Corinthians at Bible.org: http://bible.org/seriespage/1-corinthians-introduction-argument-and-outline

First Corinthians at Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Epistle_to_the_Corinthians

Corinth: http://www.abrock.com/Greece-Turkey/corinth.html

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Come Follow Me - Romans 7-13

Come Follow Me - Romans 7-13


Paul's purpose in writing to the Romans
 
As noted before, in the Book of Romans, Paul sought to establish himself with the Roman Christian Church before arriving there, a key to his planned missionary trip to Spain. The Church in Rome was likely formed by Jewish converts, who brought the gospel with them. In doing so, they taught the Gentile converts to live the Law of Moses. Wanting to establish a fuller understanding of the gospel among the Roman saints, Paul wrote the epistle to clarify certain doctrines and teachings, as he understood them.

Paul would attempt to write a balanced letter between the Jewish and Gentile Christian lifestyles. The Jewish Christians were fully engaged in the Law of Moses, circumcision, animal sacrifice, clean/unclean.  The Gentile Christians came from environment of Roman debauchery. Many of the Caesars of the time (like Nero), would have night long orgies, celebrate the violence of war in the Colosseum, and worship a myriad of gods. Paul would seek a balance by focusing on Christ as the Messiah and liberator of both the Jew first, and then the Gentile.

Living Faith vs the Dead Works of the Law

In chapter 7, Paul begins by addressing the Jewish converts (those who know the law). He explains that God saves both Jew and Gentile, even though the Gentiles are ignorant of the law of Moses. He explained that a woman could not have two husbands while they are both alive, but could remarry after the first one died. Suggesting that the Law of Moses has been fulfilled and thus is dead, they are free to marry into Christ and the higher gospel.

He goes into a confusing discussion of him being without sin until he was taught the law, which is dead, and so it made him dead also. In this, he is explaining the Law of Moses is an outward law that does not give life. Sacrificing dead animals or not coveting will not bring you back to life after death - particularly if you are only living the law out of required obedience, and not from point of faith.

But through Christ, we are saved by faith, not by the works of obedience/requirement. Yet, Paul ensures us that we still need to keep the commandments. How does this work, then? The fourth Article of Faith and the "Doctrine of Christ" (2 Ne 31; 3 Ne 11) establish that the first principles of the gospel are Faith in Christ and Repentance. Then come ordinances and covenants through baptism/ordinances and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

Paul discussed faith in Christ, repentance and baptism in the previous chapters of Romans (see especially chapter 6). Now he's explaining the impact these have on the Law of Moses. Nothing in the Law of Moses is going to save us. It can only point to the true source of salvation: Jesus Christ. However, once we obtain a spiritual witness of Christ, the gospel and its meaning become alive for us. The Spirit stirs within us to action, and we do so through covenants, ordinances and obedience to the things the Spirit witnesses to us. Suddenly, obedience gives us life, but only because the Holy Ghost sparked and then fanned the flame of faith in Christ.

Sin is not an issue to someone who believes in Christ and continually repents, relying on the merits of Christ for salvation. Yet, we deal with sin daily. For Paul, living the Law of Moses and failing to keep every little commandment and rule, meant he was a failure and unworthy of God's mercy and salvation. However, through Christ's perfection, he could be rescued from himself and his poor attempts to obedience of the law. Sadly, Paul did not write this very clearly, and so it often requires looking at several commentaries to begin to understand his intricate web of sin and being unable to escape it by himself.

Christ taught, "by their fruits ye shall know them (his true disciples)." (Matthew 7:16).  True discipleship engenders joy, peace, hope, and good works through the Gift of the Holy Ghost. If we keep the commandments because we feel we "have to" or are afraid of God's wrath, then we have yet to become disciples born of the Spirit. We are living a dead law. This is the reason so many feel gospel burnout. They are focused on obedience to commandments, which is a dead end by itself. When one focuses on increasing faith and repentance, THEN the Holy Ghost can interact with our hearts, minds and spirits, creating a new person out of us. A new person who desires to follow Jesus joyfully. This is what true conversion is about, and this is what Paul is trying to explain.

Paul's Confusing Letter

Paul's letter IS confusing. Peter noted that Paul's writings could cause a person to wrest with the gospel, distorting it, unto condemnation/death (2 Peter 3:16).

And so it is. Over the centuries, many Bible scholars have developed dogma/theories that have changed the nature of the gospel message, because they did not properly understand what Paul was teaching.  Among the mistaken teachings that grew from the writings of Paul are:

  1. St Augustine was the first to teach "original sin" where we are all born evil because of Adam's fall. In his theory, there is no good in any of us, and so it requires us to rely solely on Christ's goodness to be saved. In this scenario, we are all worthy of eternal hell solely because we were born. Also, it suggests we are made of inferior material than the stuff God is made of, so while we can be saved by God, we cannot ever become exactly like He is.
  2. Martin Luther's rejection of any requirement towards obedience. He saw that Paul said we are "saved by grace alone, not of works." Having seen the tyranny of the early Catholic Church, with indulgences and a myriad of invented commandments to obey, Martin sought to remove all requirement from mankind beyond a basic belief. Though he hoped men would act according to their faith, he did not see it as necessary for salvation.
  3. John Calvin's TULIP was born out of Paul's teachings. Predestination of the souls of men is a major component, where God has already decided, possibly arbitrarily, who will and won't be saved. TULIP stands for: 
  • Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
  • Unconditional Election (you are either chosen or you are not, regardless of what you do or the faith in God you have)
  • Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement, most will not be saved, only those predestined by God for salvation. All others will go to hell, regardless of their personal attempts at being good)
  • Irresistible Grace (those who are predestined to salvation will be forced to desire/accept salvation. There is no free will.)
  • Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)
 An in depth study of these, compared with the full gospel taught by Jesus, clearly shows they are in error. John 3:16 alone denotes that there is no Limited Atonement as described by Calvin, but all those who believe in Christ will be saved. In fact, this is the main premise of Paul's writings. And in chapter 8 of Romans, Paul explains:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)



As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that God will save the vast majority of his children. Only the sons of perdition will reject salvation, and so will not gain a kingdom of glory. Everyone else, though, will receive salvation by their level of faithfulness. Even many of the wicked will obtain the Telestial Kingdom, after a period of suffering for their sins (until they believe and repent), which kingdom was described by Joseph Smith as a wonderful place (D&C 76). It is hard for me to imagine God being a loving God, yet condemns most of his children to hell, simply because He chose to not give them free will, nor an opportunity to believe and repent.

For me, such a Being is not worthy of my worship. He is not a loving, forgiving, or caring being. Calvin's God does not care if one is saved or not, and therefore does not need a Christ to come to save mankind - especially if God has already decided to condemn most of them. For Calvin, God created all beings without free will, then condemns most of them to hell. A loving God that predestines souls, would bring all of them back to His presence. Calvin's view of God does not. Thankfully, God loves Calvinists as much as he does all his other children. Still, He desires all of us to have a correct understanding of who He is, what His attributes are, and our true relationship with Him.

And in desiring this, Paul clearly explains our relationship with God.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans 8:14-17)

Paul is NOT discussing predestination, TULIP, original sin, or any other dogma. He is discussing our relationship with God. We literally are the children of God. The Holy Ghost testifies of this reality.  There are no exceptions noted by Paul. He does not say, "they are the sons of God, IF God predestines them." No, the only requirements given by Paul (in the previous chapters) to receive a fullness of Christ's blessings and to cement our relationship with God, are: faith in Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion, and receiving the Holy Ghost. 

What does it mean to be an heir of God? Joint-heir with Christ? Are we to take this literally, or is Paul just making stuff up?  For us to fully understand what Jesus does for us when we have faith in him and take upon us his name, we have to believe what Paul is telling us. We are literal children. We are made up of the stuff God is made of, and in being cleansed and justified through Christ and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, are made pure. We become pure, even as Christ is. In being pure, we are of the same holy matter Jesus is made of.  And in becoming part of the family with God, we can inherit everything Jesus inherits. Jesus gets everything. We get everything. Jesus will rule the universe. We will rule with him. Jesus will be glorified. We will be glorified in Christ. 

Welcome to the Family of God.





Sunday, August 04, 2019

Come Follow Me - Romans 1-6

Come Follow Me - Romans 1-6

The Scholarly Views on Paul's Epistles
 
Leaving the Acts of the Apostles, we now go into Paul's letters (epistles). In doing this, we should look at the overall view of scholars regarding Paul’s epistles. The epistles we currently have were gathered together around 380 AD by St Jerome as he wrote the Latin Vulgate Bible. Jerome went through many books and epistles that were available in his day, and tried to determine which ones were authentic, and which were not. Occasionally, politics entered into his decision making. To have the western portion of the Church accept his list of approved books meant he had to include Hebrews and Revelation, though he personally believed they were not originally from Paul and John.

Today, scholars have determined that only about half of the epistles of Paul were actually written by the apostle. The remainder were possibly written by some of his followers or others who created forgeries - a very common practice in the first few centuries of Christianity, as different Christian sects sought to impose their views upon all Christians.

The Pauline epistles are now separated into three groups by modern scholars: authentic Pauline epistles, those which are disputed to be authentic by various scholars, and those that are very likely or definitely not written by Paul.

The epistles that are generally undisputed are: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.

Those that are disputed by scholars on authenticity: Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians - these are known as the Deutero-Pauline epistles, as a second person(s) who may have

known Paul most likely wrote these.

Finally come the Pastoral-Pauline epistles, which were most likely written by someone else: 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus.

Whether they were actually written by Paul or not, they are accepted by Christians as inspired writings that can help us understand concepts and teachings of the early Christian Church.

 The Epistle to the Romans

Paul’s epistle to the Romans is universally accepted as being authentic. It is thought to have been written by Paul around 57 AD. Paul wrote many of his epistles prior to this time, encouraging the Corinthians, Galatians and Thessalonians to provide for the poor. In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul explains he is enroute to Jerusalem with the funds to deliver to the leadership there.

Paul repeats some discussions he has had in previous letters: justification, Abraham, Adam and Christ as the new Adam,

Romans’ topics have been the source for several key traditional Christian concepts, including Augustine’s original sin, Martin Luther’s justification by faith alone, John Calvin’s double predestination, and John Wesley on sanctification.

Paul had established several Christian churches around the Aegean Sea, and desired to preach where others had not yet established a church: Spain. His plan was to visit Rome on the way.

It is probable that the church in Rome was founded by Jewish Christians. Gentile Romans became interested and believed in Christ. The Jewish Christians in Rome taught the Roman converts to receive circumcision and obey the Law of Moses. In writing to Rome, Paul was explaining that the Gentile Christians were saved through faith, and not the law of Moses.

In 49 AD, the Roman leader Claudius expelled from Rome both Jews and Jewish Christians over their disruptive arguments over whether Jesus was the Messiah. His successor, Nero, allowed them to return in 54 AD, but would persecute them a decade later after the Great Fire, where tradition states he fiddled while Rome burnt.

It is during Nero’s reign that Paul wrote the Romans, in hopes of establishing his branch of Gentile Christianity among them.

  I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ
Romans 1:18-32

 Referencing the “Wisdom of Solomon”, an ancient Jewish document, Paul condemned the sexual and violent sins of Rome. Nero was famous for orgies which, according to the ancient historian Suetonius, often lasted "from noon until midnight." He built a 50 foot round dining room, which rotated to simulate the movements of the earth and planets. Entertainment in Rome included violent depictions of battles, and often included the deaths of captured enemies or rebels.

 Paul was not ashamed to preach the gospel of Christ against such evils, noting that God would someday punish the wicked for such great sins. A major portion of his epistle would point to two main issues: the intense focus by some on following the Mosaic Law on the one hand, and the licentiousness of the Roman pagan society. Paul would have to teach them a middle view of what salvation meant. In speaking about the sins of Rome, Paul explained,

“Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile... (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness)” (Romans 2:9-15).
God has given a basic law, which not all have officially received via commandment of God. Many Gentiles lived chaste and non-violent lives without a prophet to command them, but following their conscience. Paul speaks of justification here. Those who keep God’s commandments, whether commanded through prophets, or inspired by the Holy Spirit to the conscience of man, are blessed for it. But it requires us to do, and not just hear or know a law. Many of the Jewish Christians knew the law, but were not following it.

 Instead, the gospel became a point for them to contend with Jews, and some of the Jewish Christians picked and chose the laws to be obeyed. They were not justified in knowing, and not obeying God's natural laws. Paul then taught that the Mosaic Law is one method, as is the method for the Gentile Christians. All have sinned, and therefore none can save themselves (Romans 3:9-11), but there is a salvation offered for both those under the Mosaic Law and those not under the law:
“ Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus ..Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Romans 1:22-31)
So, Paul confusingly seems to be saying we both need and don’t need the law. In fact, he is teaching that the law is not an end in itself. One is not saved by being circumcised or offering animal sacrifices. Nor is one saved by making prayers and offerings. But the Jew or Gentile Christian who develops his faith, will follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance via his conscience, and such a person will want to live the laws of God as a normal outpouring of faith. In other words, we do not earn salvation by obeying, but we embrace Christ's offer of salvation by doing the things the Spirit calls upon us to do in faith. A person obeys because of faithfulness. As Jesus stated, “if ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). What the Lord meant is that if we love him, keeping the commandments will be a natural outcome of that love. Our faith and love of Christ will naturally have us desire to be like him.

 Obedience flows from faith, but not necessarily the other way around. Many Pharisees paid tithes and offerings and prayed, but their obedience did not bring them to believe in Christ. Of course, faith is more than just a belief. According to the Lecture on Faith, faith is a moving power for God (and us) in all things. The greater the faith, the greater the power of God that is with us and within us.

In chapter 4, we find that Paul discusses Abraham - a Jewish ancestor that Paul uses to inspire both the Jew and Roman believers. Abraham was blessed because he believed or had faith, not because he was circumcised. Yet his faith led him to do great works of obedience, including offering up Isaac, his son. As we learn from the Nephite King Benjamin, we cannot obey enough laws or do enough to ever pay back God for our sins and disobedience in life. First off, he gave us life, and then air, water,  food and other blessings along the way, for which we owe him. When we obey God, he blesses us, so we still are ever in his debt. Benjamin noted that we are not even worth the dust we are created from, because God created the dust (Mosiah 2-5). Nephi taught us that “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23). But what exactly does that mean? The Lamanite king Anti-Nephi-Lehi encouraged his people to bury their weapons of war and violence. In doing so, he explained to the people:

“it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain” (Alma 24:11).
In essence, faith and repentance are all we can do. Jesus does the rest. The greater our faith and repentance, the more Jesus can do for us. We find from Alma’s Near Death Experience and his intense sufferings in hell for his sins that a very basic faith and repentance are required for us to be saved from hell and death:
“But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments. Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.... And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul. And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:12-20).
We find that Alma’s sins and disbelief cast him from God’s presence and into a darkness of his own making. All Alma could do was believe and repent. Only his repentance could save him from the eternal torment that was upon him. So it is with all of us. A basic faith and repentance save us from hell and death.

In chapter 5, Paul explained we are “justified by faith” through the blood of Christ. When we accept the atonement through faith and repentance, we are rescued from hell and death. Justification means we are  made guiltless for our sins, reconciled to God, and therefore made eligible for heaven (or in LDS teaching, one of the levels of heaven). Although Paul does not speak here of it, we can then seek to be sanctified by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, which purifies us as we become more faithful and obedient. As with Christ, we can go from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace, until we receive a fullness (D&C 93). At each new level of grace, we are sanctified by the Holy Ghost, purifying us and making us worthy to a higher level of glory and heavenly reward. That is what Grace, Justification and Sanctification are all about for us:

We are Justified (made guiltless/sinless) through faith on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We are then eligible to receive the sanctification of the Holy Ghost, which leads us from grace to grace (divine power/holiness to a higher divine power/holiness), as we receive grace for grace.

This ties into Paul's discussion on baptism (ordinances). Faith in Christ and repentance are the first principles of the gospel. Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost are the first ordinances of the gospel. They tie into the concepts of Grace, Justification and Sanctification.

Paul explains some of the symbolism of baptism. We are buried with Christ, and then resurrect with Christ, as we are submerged in the living waters. We are symbolically washed clean by the water, as we take upon ourselves Christ's perfection and holiness. While Paul also speaks later of the Sacrament/Communion, he does not mention other ordinances directly.These restored ordinances such as the endowment and sealing of families, are part of the going from grace to grace, and taking upon ourselves greater levels of Jesus' holiness and power. The ordinances reflect our faith and spiritual growth.

To summarize all of this:

We cannot save ourselves through obedience to laws. We are only saved through faith in Christ and repentance. In having faith, we begin the process of desiring to be more like Jesus, and the Spirit guides us towards the things we should do to obey His will. As we receive baptism and other ordinances, we grow in faith, repent more, and receive greater guidance from the Holy Ghost. This is the process of Grace, where God takes us from one level of holiness/grace to the next, as we continue to grow in our faith in Christ, repent, and receive of the ordinances and the Holy Ghost. The day will come when we receive a fullness of God's grace, divinity and power through Jesus Christ's Atonement and Resurrection.




Bibliography

Nero's rotating dining room: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1216986/Roman-Emperor-Neros-legendary-rotating-dining-room-uncovered-archaeologists.html





Sunday, July 28, 2019

Come Follow Me - Acts 22-28

Come Follow Me - Acts 22-28

Paul is warned

Returning to the Book of Acts in this lesson and the continuing saga of Paul.  Paul has gathered together the offerings for the poor from among the Gentile converts and sets sail to Jerusalem.  In his letter to the Romans, he noted his intent to visit them after going to Jerusalem, probably as part of a plan Paul had to open up a new mission field in Spain.

As Paul goes on his journey, and is warned many times by disciples and the prophet Agabus that danger awaits him in Jerusalem.  In fact, Agabus trussed himself up in Paul’s girdle and stated that Paul would also be bound if he went there.  It seems that the Lord was giving Paul a choice, and several opportunities to back out of a sore trial and imprisonment.  Yet, Paul set his sights on his plan, and continued on it until there was only one option: imprisonment and being sent to Rome.

It would really be interesting to be able to get inside of Paul’s head to see why he made such a determined decision.  Did he think that being imprisoned would open doors that otherwise would remain closed?  Did he think there was no other way for him to go to Rome?  Or was he just a stubborn old fool that was going to do things his way, and disregard the counsel given him by others.  Think of it.  Had he stayed away from Jerusalem, he could have had many years of preaching.  He could have gone to Rome as a free citizen, rather than a prisoner.  He would have been able to continue on to Spain, France, and perhaps even England.  Why then, did he choose the route he did?

Paul’s Imprisonment

As expected, Paul returned to Jerusalem.  While there, the apostles asked him to be cleansed and serve in the Temple as a proper Jewish-Christian.  He agreed and went to the temple.  Some saw him and thought he brought into the temple a Gentile.  The action angered the crowd into being a mob, and they attempted to slay him.  The Roman centurions stopped him and allowed him to explain himself to them and the crowd.  Speaking in Hebrew, he explained his Jewish past at the feet of the great Jewish scholar Gamaliel, and his conversion by Jesus in vision.  

Again, the Jews were angered from hearing about his taking the gospel to the Gentiles and the soldiers had to take him in.  There, they chose to question him by flogging.  Flogging, a harsh form of torture, was often used upon individuals that resided within the Roman Empire.  It could not, however, be used on free citizens without Caesar’s approval.  Paul noted he was born a free citizen, unlike the centurion before him, who had purchased his freedom.  

Paul went before the Sanhedrin, where he put them fighting among themselves, asking questions that put Sadduccees against Pharisees.  He stated that he was a Pharisee and was in trouble because he taught about the resurrection of the dead.  Pharisees believed in resurrection, but Sadduccees did not believe there was life after mortality.  An argument ensued, and he was whisked away once again.

That evening, the Lord told him he would go to witness in Rome.  Paul had reached the point of no return when it came to having a choice of where he would go.  At any prior time, he could have decided another route: not go to Jerusalem, not go to the temple, not anger the crowds by telling them about preaching to the Gentiles, not angering half the Sanhedrin.  There were no other options for a free-born Roman citizen who had left his Jewish roots completely behind and embraced the Gentile order.  Jesus appeared to tell Paul where his choices had now led him.

A plot was planned against Paul’s life by radical Jews, so he was taken by armed guard out of Jerusalem and to Caesarea to be judged of the governor Felix.  Paul defends himself against the Jews who bring claims against him.  Not found guilty, Paul still is kept in house arrest for two years.

Festus, the governor of Jerusalem went to Caesarea to judge Paul, asking him to return to Jerusalem to be judged.  Paul insisted on going to Caesar to be judged instead.  Paul still was intent to follow his path to Rome in chains, even when other paths may have taken him there easier.  Paul was then heard by King Agrippa,  Felix and Festus were concerned about sending a prisoner up to Caesar, not knowing what to write regarding the case, as parts of it seemed frivolous, yet here were members of the Sanhedrin willing to testify against him.

So amazing was Paul’s conversion story that Festus told Paul, “thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad” (Acts 26:24).  Just as with Joseph Smith, who claimed to see God and angels, Paul was considered crazy or possessed by demons.

Yet, King Agrippa, who was a student of Judaism since his childhood, understood the teachings of the prophets regarding the Messiah and resurrection: “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (26:28).  Many of those who understand ancient Jewish/Christian things are amazed at what Joseph Smith brought forth in the Book of Mormon, and other ancient writings.  Harold Bloom, a well known scholar of Judaism, wrote highly of him and wondered how such a poorly schooled young man could successfully recreate ancient Judaism within the Book of Mormon.

The rulers agreed he was not guilty of death or bonds.  Yet, because Paul had asked to go before Caesar, they had no choice but to send him on to Rome.

Enroute to Rome, the ship was caught in a storm and shipwrecked on an island.  Through God’s providence and protection of Paul, all on-board were protected for following his counsel.   The crew and prisoners were well cared for by the island people until they were rescued.

And interesting event occurred during that time.  While putting firewood near the fire, a poisonous snake leaped out of the fire and bit him.  All watched to see Paul fall over dead.  To them, he obviously had done some heinous act that required punishment from the gods.  Instead, Paul shook the snake back into the fire and continued with no harm.  When he did not die or get sick, they decided he must be a god.

While Paul was not a god, he was a disciple of Christ.  In Paul’s writings we’ve read several passages that talk about our being heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, able to receive all the blessings of God, which includes his sharing all his power and glory with the faithful.  While Paul was not divine, he had the power of the divine with him.  Such power amazed the natives, who had never seen a person survive such a deadly and dangerous attack before.  What kind of viper jumps out of a fire, except one sent from the gods?  Yet Paul paid it little heed.  Obviously, his magic was more powerful than that of any local god trying to harm him.

And such is the teaching of Christ we receive from Paul.  We may occasionally get bitten by fiery serpents in this life.  But through the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ, each of us can eternally shake off all the ills and pains of this life and become even as Jesus is, a divine child of God.

Paul did arrive in Rome, where he lived for two years in house arrest before he was brought before Caesar’s judgment.



Bibliography

Harold Bloom, "The American Religion":
http://www.amazon.com/American-Religion-Emergence-Post-Christian-Nation/dp/0671867377/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316032226&sr=1-1