Monday, March 29, 2010

On a Dual Prophecy

Two unmatched strands of a future story
Seem (un)resolved, but not too clear;
Felt 'twas one; but, now feels divided
Between the now and the coming then.
Hoped 'twas one, the tale was unmixed,
And the future unraveled this form of the best;
But, though 'twas two, and the latter come true,
This thing will happily come to rest.

© Domenic Marbaniang, March 30, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

Wisdom is the Principal Thing

The Book of Proverbs in the Bible presents Wisdom as the first of all things (Prov.4:7). Wisdom existed before the worlds existed, for by it were the worlds created, it says. Therefore, King Solomon advices the youth to first seek for wisdom above all things, above rubies, pearls, and whatever categorized material blessings in those days. For, when wisdom comes it comes with these and more.

Interestingly, the word “philosophy” actually referred to the Greek quest or love for wisdom (phileo meaning “to love” and sophia meaning “wisdom”). Sadly, in the two millenia and half that rolled out after Socrates, skepticism, relativism, agnosticism, and nihilism scribbled their characters over the scroll of this discipline. Ironically, “philosophy”, in modern parlance, is far from being considered “a love for wisdom”. As G. K. Chesterton wrote:

“..the new rebel is a sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.” (Orthodoxy, 1908)

Therefore, one marvels if the modern general information system usually leaves a person more wiser. Certainly, it is agreed that neither Intelligence Quotient nor education, in the modernist sense, are badges of wisdom. One often hears remarks regarding some illiterate peasant or one’s own less-educated parent as having more wisdom to guide one’s life than all one’s education and experiences had produced in him/her.

So, we ask what wisdom is, after all. Certainly, we understand it. So, let’s try to just put it into words in order to have some talk on it. We understand a person to be wise not because of the many questions he raises nor because of the doubts he casts; we, usually, understand that person to be wise who is able to solve problems, one who has solutions to some problem. We also understand that person to be wise who knows what to act in which situation, one who has the discernment to make the right choice and take the right decision or route to action.

Now, a great many of our actions, though not appearing so on the surface, are made up of ethical choices. And, the choices one makes builds up one’s character as a wise or a fool; for, such choices determine the quality of one’s relationships with others. A wise man is readily taken to be a man of faith, and someone that is reliable as a rock, for he knows the truth and has the character to hold on to the right principles of action in this world. If one looks into the Holy Scriptures of any religion, one will certainly not find all the answers to the moral questions we face in our days. For instance, the Bible doesn’t specifically tell us whether smoking is right or wrong. Therefore, the laws that govern a nation continue to grow each passing day. But, wisdom as the principal thing is the key that opens the understanding to a discernment of what is right or wrong in a given situation. It calculates the moment, at hand, in perspective of God, fellowmen, and eternal repercussions. It also calculates the decision with regard to the knowledge of what is good, noble, and just. Therefore, a wise person’s company makes others wise; his countenance sharpens those who befriend him like iron sharpens iron.
Of course, as Confucius and several other people rightly noted, while the material universe is governed by the laws of nature, the psychological world of man is governed by laws of morality. Immanuel Kant once said that there were only two things that surprised him: the starry heavens above and the moral law within. Within the heart of every man and woman is written the moral law of God, and certainly a violation of this inner law not only mars and distorts one’s character, but also one’s perspective of reality. Reality is warped by transgression of the law of human behavior. Shame, guilt, pride, anguish, anxiety, vexation, distrust, mistrust, and whatever conditions disturb peace of mind are produced by a disturbed connection between the inner world and the outer world by the cord of moral understanding. It is like a boy who holds the cord to the kite that he flies in the sky. When the cord is broken, the soul is lost. The wise don’t fall prey to what the world dictates; they listen to the voice of wisdom that imparts discernment, inner rightness and justice, and mature insight. Certainly, then, faith is the mark of the wise; while the ignorant wallow in doubt, and the fool is marked by rebellion that destroys his own soul.

There is another thing to note about wisdom. It not only makes the right moral choice, it, in fact, goes ahead of this and inculcates an understanding of worth and purpose. Wisdom knows the worth of things and their purpose. It begins with an understanding of self-worth and purpose in this world. The skeptic and the unwise sees absurdity in the world. Wisdom sees meaning. I once read a quote by someone in Readers’ Digest that said “Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build it.” Foolishness invents mental chaos; wisdom builds the world. Therefore, wisdom is known as the principal thing. One must, also therefore, seek wisdom more than any other thing. In modern times, materialism has taken hold of many young minds and their lives oriented towards accumulation of dusty gold or gold dust, whatever. The Bible declares the love of money as the root of evil, a trap and snare that only afflicts and warps character rather than building it. This pursuit of gold is certainly not the purpose of man on earth. To Aristotle, the ultimate purpose of man was to be a rational being, because this was what distinguished man from the brute world. The Bible goes a bit further and declares man’s purpose to be the pursuit of God, who though not being away from anyone of us, is still unknown to the soul that is blinded by ignorance. Some have confused the pursuit of God with the pursuit of Godhood. Man cannot be the Maker. It is pride that would reject this principal gem of wisdom. Man’s pursuit of God alone constitutes the pursuit of meaning and purpose because the Maker alone knows what man has been created for. Our meaning of life is in the mind of God. The New Testament tells us that this meaning is communicated to us through the Incarnation of God in human flesh, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ who through His life, service, death, and resurrection declared to man what his ultimate reason is, his ultimate choice of purpose in life. It is not just heaven or salvation from judgment that the Cross of Christ provides for us. It is a life that discerns God’s will and pursues it because God’s will is good and wisdom is the law of the Good.

Somewhere one certainly sees where the difference lies between the perpetrators of crime against humanity and the lovers of humanity; to symbolize, between Adolph Hitler and Mother Teresa. Deep in the hearts of humanity is the answer: wisdom. To know the good and do it is wisdom; to transgress is folly.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why Gandhi Didn’t Become a Christian - In His Own Words

Why Gandhi Didn’t Become a Christian

Quotes from Mahatma Gandhi’s
An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth
Translated from Gujarati by Mahadev Desai, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1927

Chapter 20: Acquaintance with Religions
About the same time I met a good Christian from Manchester in a vegetarian boarding house. He talked to me about Christianity. I narrated to him my Rajkot recollections. He was pained to hear them. He said, 'I am a vegetarian. I do not drink. Many Christians are meat-eaters and drink, no doubt; but neither meat-eating nor drinking is enjoined by Scripture. Do please read the Bible.' I accepted his advice, and he got me a copy. I have a faint recollection that he himself used to sell copies of the Bible, and I purchased from him an edition containing maps, concordance, and other aids. I began reading it, but I could not possibly read through the Old Testament. I read the book of Genesis, and the chapters that followed invariably sent me to sleep. But just for the sake of being able to say that I had read it, I plodded through the other books with much difficulty and without the least interest or understanding. I disliked reading the book of Numbers.
But the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to my heart. I compared it with the Gita. The verses, 'But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man take away thy coat let him have thy cloke too,' delighted me beyond measure and put me in mind of Shamal Bhatt's 'For a bowl of water, give a goodly meal' etc. My young mind tried to unify the teaching of the Gita, the Light of Asia and the Sermon on the Mount. That renunciation was the highest form of religion appealed to me greatly.

Chapter 36: Christian Contacts
The next day at one o'clock I went to Mr. Baker's prayer-meeting. There I was introduced to Miss Harris, Miss Gabb, Mr. Coates and others. Everyone kneeled down to pray, and I followed suit. The prayers were supplications to God for various things, according to each person's desire. Thus the usual forms were for the day to be passed peacefully, or for God to open the doors of the heart.
A prayer was now added for my welfare: 'Lord, show the path to the new brother who has come amongst us. Give him, Lord, the peace that Thou hast given us. May the Lord Jesus who has saved us save him too. We ask all this in the name of Jesus.' There was no singing of hymns or other music at these meetings. After the supplication for something special every day, we dispersed, each going to his lunch, that being the hour for it. The prayer did not take more than five minutes…..
I read a number of such books in 1893. I do not remember the names of them all, but they included the Commentary of Dr. Parker of the City Temple, Pearson's Many Infallible Proofs and Butler's Analogy. Parts of these were unintelligible to me. I liked some things in them, while I did not like others. Many Infallible Proofs were proofs in support of the religion of the Bible, as the author understood it. The book had no effect on me. Parker'sCommentary was morally stimulating, but it could not be of any help to one who had no faith in the prevalent Christian beliefs. Butler's Analogystruck me to be a very profound and difficult book, which should be read four or five times to be understood properly. It seemed to me to be written with a view to converting atheists to theism. The arguments advanced in it regarding the existence of God were unnecessary for me, as I had then passed the stage of unbelief; but the arguments in proof of Jesus being the only incarnation of God and the Mediator between God and man left me unmoved.
But Mr. Coates was not the man easily to accept defeat. He had great affection for me. He saw, round my neck, the Vaishnava necklace of Tulasi-beads. He thought it to be superstition and was pained by it. 'This superstition does not become you. Come, let me break the necklace.'
'No, you will not. It is a sacred gift from my mother.'
'But do you believe in it?'
'I do not know its mysterious significance. I do not think I should come to harm if I did not wear it. But I cannot, without sufficient reason, give up a necklace that she put round my neck out of love and in the conviction that it would be conducive to my welfare. When, with the passage of time, it wears away and breaks of its own accord, I shall have no desire to get a new one. But this necklace cannot be broken.'
Mr. Coates could not appreciate my argument, as he had no regard for my religion. He was looking forward to delivering me from the abyss of ignorance. He wanted to convince me that, no matter whether there was some truth in other religions, salvation was impossible for me unless I accepted Christianity which represented the truth, and that my sins would not be washed away except by the intercession of Jesus, and that all good works were useless.
Just as he introduced me to several books, he introduced me to several friends whom he regarded as staunch Christians. One of these introductions was to a family which belonged to the Plymouth Brethren, a Christian sect.
Many of the contacts for which Mr. Coates was responsible were good. Most struck me as being God- fearing. But during my contact with this family, one of the Plymouth Brethren confronted me with an argument for which I was not prepared:
'You cannot understand the beauty of our religion. From what you say it appears that you must be brooding over your transgressions every moment of your life, always mending them and atoning for them. How can this ceaseless cycle of action bring you redemption? You can never have peace. You admit that we are all sinners. Now look at the perfection of our belief. Our attempts at improvement and atonement are futile. And yet redemption we must have. How can we bear the burden of sin? We can but throw it on Jesus. He is the only sinless Son of God. It is His word that those who believe in Him shall have everlasting life. Therein lies God's infinite mercy. And as we believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Sin we must. It is impossible to live in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind. Only he who accepts His great redemption can have eternal peace. Think what a life of restlessness is yours, and what a promise of peace we have.'
The argument utterly failed to convince me. I humbly replied:
'If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I cannot accept it. I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless.'
To which the Plymouth Brother rejoined: I assure you, your attempt is fruitless. Think again over what I have said.'
And the Brother proved as good as his word. He knowingly committed transgressions, and showed me that he was undisturbed by the thought of them.
But I already knew before meeting with these friends that all Christians did not believe in such a theory of atonement. Mr. Coates himself walked in the fear of God. His heart was pure, and he believed in the possibility of self-purification. The two ladies also shared this belief. Some of the books that came into my hands were full of devotion. So, although Mr. Coates was very much disturbed by this latest experience of mine, I was able to reassure him and tell him that the distorted belief of a Plymouth Brother could not prejudice me against Christianity.
My difficulties lay elsewhere. They were with regard to the Bible and its accepted interpretation.

Chapter 40: Religious Ferment
This Convention was an assemblage of devout Christians. I was delighted at their faith. I met the Rev. Murray. I saw that many were praying for me. I liked some of their hymns, they were very sweet.
The Convention lasted for three days. I could understand and appreciate the devoutness of those who attended it. But I saw no reason for changing my belief – my religion. It was impossible for me to believe that I could go to heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. When I frankly said so to some good Christian friends, they were shocked. But there was no help for it.
My difficulties lay deeper. It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in Him, would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again, according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept. The pious lives of Christians did not give me anything that the lives of men of other faiths had failed to give. I had seen in other lives just the same reformation that I had heard of among Christians. Philosophically there was nothing extraordinary in Christian principles. From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.
I shared this mental churning with my Christian friends whenever there was an opportunity, but their answers could not satisfy me.
Thus if I could not accept Christianity either as a perfect, or the greatest religion, neither was I then convinced of Hinduism being such. Hindu defects were pressingly visible to me. If untouchability could be a part of Hinduism, it could but be a rotten part or an excrescence. I could not understand the raison d'être of a multitude of sects and castes. What was the meaning of saying that the Vedas were the inspired Word of God? If they were inspired, why not also the Bible and the Koran?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Culture of Shame and the Shame of the Cross (Hebrews 12:2)


Message delivered at Pentecostal Church, Itarsi. Tuesday, March 16, 2010.


"looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrew 12:2

He despised the shame....
The consciousness of shame that the world has is warped, distorted, confused; its values are determined by the shame culture.

Luke 16:15: "what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God."

Note: It says "abomination in the sight of God", NIV - "detestable": it denotes the extent to which man's system of beliefs, world-view, is opposed to the mind of God.

The Evil Spring: Autonomous Heart:
"Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man." John 2:23-25

"Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat loaves with unwashed hands? But He answered and said to them, Well has Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. However, they worship Me in vain, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the dippings of pots and cups. And many other such things you do." Mark 7:5-8


THE COVER
Genesis 3:7: "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings." (NKJV)

Sin brought in immediately a warped world-perspective. Sin creates its own world-frame, world-system, mind-set, in which sinful concepts steeped in godlessness have perfect meaning. The shame is felt; but the covering is made to hide it. Shame is symbolic of the warpness into which the soul of man has fallen, without any hope. There are 3 ways in which the world tries to cure it by itself:

The autonomy of deciding for self what is good or evil.

A. Intellectual Games - World-views that have inbuilt coherence, absolutes, and grids of meaning: Religions, Cultures, Traditions, Philosophies - They look self-sufficient and have little or no place for God, the Cross, and for Jesus Christ. Culture is not Christian. Human culture sprang from Edenic cover-attempts.
One loses ones mind in the intellectual soup of world-meanings. Glory, Virtue, and Wisdom is warped - Maya (Delusion) is just this nothing else: A world created within the minds of humans, having nothing to do with and separated from Reality.

B. Indulgent Follies - The world of pleasure, indulgence, intoxication, mindlessness, drugs, mysticism, irrationality; like the swine that forgets the world around when its nose is sunk in the gutter.

C: Nihilism. Nonsense. Absurdity. Suicide.

Layers of covers intensify and make intricately complex the framework and false world that grows around imagination: the simplicity of the child is long lost.
No wonder Christ talked about being "born-again" and the Scripture talks about "renewing the mind"


THE VEIL
The Blockade. The Obstruction.

A. The Veil over the Mind - Enmity with God.
Colossians 1:21: "alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works"

B. The Veil over the Heart - Estrangement from God
Mark 7:6: " "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me."

C. The Veil over the Understanding - Darkness
2Corinthians 3:14-16: "But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away."


THE CROSS
Through Shame. Beyond Shame.

Hebrews 10:19,20: Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh.

He gave His body to be ripped open, violated, mutilated, and torn on the cross...
By His stripes we are healed. His cross pierces through our false worlds, shattering them, reconciling us to the Reality of God. "You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free". He is the Truth, the Way, the Life.

He was broken like the bread He broke in His New Covenant, to give us life.
He despised the shame, for the shame and shamelessness of culture are false having their springs in sin.

No movie or picture can ever repeat that scene of triumph, where sin was scorched on the cross, man's wisdom was invalidated by the reality of divine justice and salvation, and heaven and earth bridged through the body of the blessed Lord.

Therefore, He doesn't condemn. He gives confidence.

John 21:
Jesus met the disciples while they had gone into the world of man out of the sense of failure (false).
Peter, when he knew it was the Lord, wrapped a cloth around and jumped into water for he was naked.
When he came to Jesus, He only asked him one thing: "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?"

That is reality. Everything else that doesn't center on this is false. Every world-system, idea of the "real life", and feeling that can do without Christ is the fruit of  living in a world-system founded on wickedness.



Through His cross, that stigma of the world, the Christian is crucified to the world and the world to the Christian. This is freedom. This is truth. This is redemption. This is love.

© Domenic Marbaniang, March 16, 2010. Tuesday.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why Idolatry is Wrong

IDOLATRY
© Domenic Marbaniang, May 2007
Published in the Light of Life Magazine, Mumbai, 2007

INTRODUCTION
Idolatry’ may be defined as the practice of worshipping and serving images (pictures, sculpts, etc) as identical with, as representative of, or as deity. In almost every major religion, idolatrous misrepresentation of God has been denounced at some point or the other by religious reformers. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are blatantly against idolatry. Though Roman Catholicism practices reverence to icons, such practice is nowhere endorsed in the Bible, even in a limited form. Sikhism also believes that God is formless and rejects idol worship. Hindu reformers such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Swami Dayananda Saraswati spoke against idolatry. From the Biblical point of view, idolatry is symbolical of rebellion against God and indulgence in the world of passions (Rom. 1: 18-25).

I. SINFULNESS OF IDOLATRY
A. The Commandment
The second commandment of the Decalogue demands: ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.’ (Ex. 20:4-6).
Note: making images, here, specifically refers to making images of God with religious purposes (Lev. 26:1).
  1. ‘Thou shalt not’ – ‘I shall make’ demonstrates rebellion. It shows disrespect for the divine person. It dishonors the divine command and disavows God Himself. (Rom. 1:18-21)
  2. ‘makegraven image, or any likeness…’ – breaking this command displays the disorientation and ill-directioning (not merely mis-directioning, as if mistake) of worship. It displays degeneration of theology and self-interpretation of cosmos, in other words the jettisoning of divine revelation (the suppression of truth, Rom. 1:18). It displays manufacture of a lie, the substitution of reality, the replacement thereof with self-created virtuality. (Isa. 42:8; 46:5).
  3. ‘of any thing that is in heaven…earth…water.’ – idolatry is delimitation of God, misrepresentation of the Godhead, corruption of religion, and destruction of the transcendental. It ends up in the disavowal of absolutes and materialization or secularization of spirituality. The image itself displays the impersonalization and passivitization of God, in other words, God is rendered dumb, deaf, and powerless and left to the wistful, fanciful, imagination of the idolater.(Ps.115:4-8).
  4. ‘Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them’ – ‘bowing down’ displays submission to the idol, implying a categorical departure from the Biblical God. ‘Serving’ implies self-giving, abandoning, enslavement to the idol or idolatrous system.
B. Explanation
1. God is Spirit. Worship, therefore, specified Jesus, must be spiritual and true (Jn. 4:24). Making idols is de-spiritualization of the Godhead, suppression of truth (Rom. 1:18, 21), and invention of lie (Rev. 21: 27). Remember God is not a spirit like angelic beings or the spirit of a man. God is wholly different from all created beings and things. Therefore, no created (non-divine) object can represent His form. The physical idol alienates the idolater from the true God (Eze. 14: 5).
Question: Dishonor of pictures or symbols are considered wrong. For instance, dishonor of the Indian Flag is considered dishonor of the nation. Likewise, doesn’t dishonor of any image thought to represent God constitute dishonor of God Himself?
Answer: I consider a pig to be a beautiful animal. However, if anyone made a picture of me like a pig, I would consider that to be misrepresenting, if not dishonoring, me.  If, however, he says that he knows me only as a pig then, in reality, he doesn’t know me and that picture is not mine and his labeling of it as me is dishonoring me. On the other hand, if he claims that he doesn’t know how I look and, therefore, has made a picture of me like a pig; then, he has no right to make a picture of what he doesn’t know for that would constitute fabrication of falsehood; and that picture would only distort the truth of what I am. In reality, then, an idol (whatever people say it is) is neither God nor can it be His representation.
Question: If I had a photograph of Jesus or a painting of Him, can I worship it?
Answer: Worship of images involves substitution of the true object of worship, God, with an invention or self-decided representation of it. Therefore, worship of any images, including those of Christ (even if they are original photographs!) is sinful (missing the mark and falling short of God’s true glory). To put it simple, that picture is not Jesus; therefore, worship of it doesn’t mean or imply worship of Jesus. For instance, eating the picture or clay model of an apple doesn’t mean one has eaten an apple.
Note: The worship of Jesus the son of God is based on His divinity and not His humanity. We worship Him because He is God and not because He is man. Jesus is the bodily indwelling of the Godhead, the true Temple of God (Col. 2:9; Jn. 2:19). Therefore, He is worshipped. His image, however, is not indwelt by the fullness of Godhead neither is it a temple of God.
2. God is Infinite (immense - 1 Kgs. 8:27; eternal - Ex.15:18; Dt. 33:27). Therefore, limiting Him to an image in space-time is distortion of His true nature. God must be worshipped as the infinite, unlimited God. Limiting God by any means or form is symbolic of unbelief in the true nature and power of God (Ps. 78: 41). Picturing Him in the form of some limited creature is departure from faith in God as infinite in being and power.

C. Dimensions of Idolatrous Sin
1. Subjective (Internal). Idolatry is primarily internal. There are idols in the human heart that take the place of God (Eze. 14: 3) and must be removed because God desires truth in the inward being (Ps. 51: 6). The idols of the heart are anything that distort the truth of God or replace Him.
2. Objective (External). Objective idols are of two kinds: those that are religiously defined (idols of deities, 1 Cor. 10: 19, 20) and those that are socially defined (money, pleasure, power, 1 Cor. 10: 7, 8).

III. DIVINE RESPONSE
1. Repent and turn from idols (Eze. 14:6). God calls all men (His children, Acts 17: 28, 29) out of enslavement to idols. The idols cannot and do not hold the people captive. It is the people who blindly and willingly give themselves over to both internal and external idols. Therefore, repentance or turning of the mind, will, and emotion from idols (since traditional bonds are involved) is necessary.
2. Flee from idolatry (1 Cor. 10: 14). This command is with respect to one’s attitude towards idolatry. A child of God is to flee idols not because he fears the idols will do something (1 Cor. 10:19), but because he abhors and hates any falsehood that stands against the true nature of God (1 Cor. 10:21). The child of God must flee from any partaking or fellowship with idolatrous worship. (1 Cor. 10:20). He must come out of idolatrous relationships and separate himself for God (2 Cor. 6: 17).
3. Idol worship will be completely destroyed. In the Final Judgment, idolatry will be judged (Rev. 21: 8; 22:15). Idols will be totally removed (Isa. 2:18). False worship will be abolished and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord (Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14).

PRACTICAL QUESTIONS
1.  If I’m given food offered to idols can I eat it?
Answer: If one doesn’t know that it was of such kind and eats it, it is not sin (1 Cor. 10: 27). However, one must not eat it if one knows it is offered to an idol. There are at least three reasons behind this injunction in the New Testament.
1.      That food connotes fellowship with that religious system which is denial of relationship with Christ (1 Cor. 10:20, 21). The food in itself and by itself has no magical or evil influence: ‘the earth is the Lord’s.’
2.      A Christian must not eat it for his own conscience’s sake (1 Cor. 10: 28-30). There are many things which are morally not wrong but still are spiritually inexpedient (1 Cor. 10: 23). The conscience gets polluted when one denies absolute allegiance to the Lord and avoids testifying of Him for personal, social, political or any other reason. It also gets polluted when love of self-security and respect is placed above love of God.
3.      A Christian must not eat it for the sake of others’ conscience (1 Cor. 10: 28-30). The weaker Christians must be governed by many laws, like children in a home before they are able to learn responsibility and make mature decisions. Such Christians may get easily ensnared into idolatry when they see stronger Christians harmless partaking of such food. Therefore, for the sake of their conscience, such food must be avoided.

2. Will I be destroying my social relations by not partaking of food offered to idols?
Answer: No, it is only by despisal of and insult of others religions that one harms social relations. A Christian by not partaking of such food is not insulting someone else’ religion but is simply exercising freedom of conscience. For instance, a strong Christian may eat goat meat and feel nothing wrong about it in his conscience. On the contrary, a strong Brahmin will not eat meat since it is against the rule of his conscience. A Christian and a Brahmin can be good friends as long as they respect each other’s conscience. The problem comes when the Christian tries to despise the Brahmin for not eating meat with him.

3. How does a government servant respond to religious contexts?
In a secular nation such as India, one must remember that state and religion are separate. Religion is a private and individual issue. Therefore, religious practices of any particular religion cannot be enforced in any governmental context. As far as invitations as guest to religious meetings and gatherings is concerned, the government servant may go there but is not obliged to participate in the rituals thereof. All this should be clarified before accepting the invitation.

CONCLUSION
Idolatry is sin because it involves departure from God towards creation, a self-definition of the Godhead along one’s own drives and passions. It is corruption and rejection of divine revelation. Therefore, the God who reveals Himself as the one and true God abhors idolatry. However, idolatry is not just something that involves idols of paint, clay, stone, and metal. Idolatry may be something deep within someone’s heart. A Christian must, therefore, regularly check his heart and if there is anything other than truth and integrity therein, he must cast it out of his heart and fill the empty space with worship and reverence of the only true God (Ps. 139:23,24).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Churn, Lord...

Churn, Lord... May the Sword of Your Spirit pierce through my conscious and subconscious, stirring, churning, and bringing to surface all that Your grace has worked, warned, and willed in me. Bath my memory with the cream of Your goodness and mercy! In Christ's Name, Amen!

Religions and An Evangelist's Approach to Other Faiths - Lectures

From Lectures given at Grace Covenant Church Short-term Bible School, Shillong. April, 2008

India
Motley of religions
Birth soil of major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikkhism

Modern Problems - Pluralism, Fundamentalism
Modern Issues - Religious Conversions

Meaning of Religion
The word comes from the Latin "religare" and means "to bind"
Religion:
-Binds a community together to some authority
-Binds the adherent to the religious creed
-Binds people to customs, rituals...

Functions as a kind of social adhesive - Religion is the soul of culture

Origin of Religions
The Boundaries
Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
(Act 17:25-28)

The Religion of Cain & Abel - Sacrifice
Abel's Faith
Cain's Self-Righteous Works

The Religion of Enoch, Noah,... till the Flood
Noah preached righteousness (2Pet.2:5)

Tower of Babel and Division of Humanity (Gen.10)

Gospel's Call
And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.
(Act 14:15-17)

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
(Act 17:29-31)

False Elements of Religion
1. Acts 14:15: Vanities - Worthless, Vapor-Like, Not Lasting
2. Rom.1:21-27: Carnality
Violation of Law of God - Sinful
Violation of Laws of Nature - Unnatural
Violation of Laws of Logic - Illogical, Foolish
3. Col.2:16-18, 20-23: False Spirituality - Spiritual Pride
4. 2Cor.11:13-15: False Miracles - Angel of Light Disguise
Demonic Endorsement: 2Thess.2:9; Deut.13:1-5
Magic, Witchcraft, Signs, Prophecy, Healing
The devil can duplicate everything, but he can't duplicate the blood of Jesus Christ
5. 1Tim.4:1-3: Demonic Doctrines
Violation of Law - Idolatry -> Social Evils, Discrimination, etc.

Good Elements in Religion
Important: The approach of condemnation is not biblical. Do not cut the nose and then give a flower to smell.
Right to freedom of conscience is not right to condemn other's faith

Are there good elements?
1. Conceptual Links: Col.2:17 - Foreshadows Christ
- Divine Revelation in Dreams (Gen.41:38,39), Visions (Dan.5:11,12), Magi (Mat.2:1ff)
- Human Search (Quest - Religiosity)
Acts 17:23 - The Unknown God, Epimenides of Crete
Other prophets: Melchizedek, Balaam (though turned bad)
- Symbols - Examples from Culture - The Wall (The tribal runs behind the wall and is legally secured against any attack); The Blood Covenant of Africa (David Livingstone)
- Concepts - Justice (Acts 28:4), Karma, Salvation, Cleansing by Water, etc
Imp. Certain concepts differ, e.g., "born-again" may be misunderstood as rebirth or punarjanma by Hindus
2. Reduction of Crime in Society: Gives knowledge of good and evil but is not able to sanctify and save

An Evangelist's Approach to People of Other Faiths

Public Witnessing
Learn about your audience, avoid all sarcastic remarks, preach Christ alone

Personal Witnessing - Be open to the Holy Spirit
1. Ask questions. Questions reveal the mind of the person and also decide an entry point for meaningful discussion.
2. Listen to him/her. Don't be just anxious on pressing your point.
3. Never pass an arrogant and sarcastic remark on his/her tradition.
4. Give your personal testimony of Jesus Christ.
5. Avoid arrogant arguers (1Tim.6:3,4,20). They do not want to listen. There will be more heat than light.
6. Remember that in many situations evangelism is not a one-point event; it is gradual. Be patient.
7. Unless you know your weapons well, you can't fare well. Know the Scripture. Know what the devil's tactics are. Know people.
8. Very Important: Be aware of the people's culture and never be a stumbling-block to the Gospel.
1Cor.9:20-23; 8:9-13: Same applies to dress code, manners, etc.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Matter of Faith

A Matter of Faith
ZERO REINTERPRETED

Dr. Domenic Marbaniang
Professor, CITS.

 “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God….”  (Heb. 11:3)
One distinctive tenet of Christian faith is the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo or creation out of nothing. Contrary to many other cosmogonies, the Bible teaches us that God did not create this world out of some primordial substance; the universe is not eternal, but God created the world out of nothing. This is contrary to the natural principle that something cannot come out of nothing. Obviously, this doctrine, though unpalatable to reason, is acceptable to faith. This is not meant to say that faith contradicts natural philosophy, but that it transcends the natural and, therefore, can connect to the reality that gives significance to this universe.
Creatio Ex Nihilo
The writer of Hebrews tells us here that it is by faith that “we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God”. Obviously, the doctrine of creation out of nothing implies that the world, as it is, is basically composed of nothing since it was made out of nothing. Without the creative power of the word of God, this world would have remained nothing; in other words, it would not even have existed. Theologians call all created reality as contingent since it owes its existence to something other than itself, i.e., to God. Thus, the world is ultimately nothing by itself and in itself. Therefore, idolatry and witchcraft are detested by God since, while the former holds that God can be represented in contingent forms, the latter holds that this universe itself contains the power to meet the gap between being and nothingness, both of which are false beliefs and expressions of false pride and presumption; thus being vain shows, they lead to nothing but eternal separation from God. Faith, however, takes one beyond the fringes of nothingness by reposing in the absolute possibilities of God.
INFINITE POSSIBILITIES
The infinite power of God, which is also inexhaustible, is unlike the contingent physical force inherent in this universe. Therefore, events, circumstances, and appearances of the world do not matter to the one who has the faith of God. He is not alarmed by them because his faith is above them all. It is transcendental.The strong optimism of the faith of God is that it has the infinite power of God on its side and is, therefore, able to see infinite possibilities where natural eyes fail to see even a glimpse of hope. Only infinity spans the difference between being and nothingness. To put it the other way, the difference between zero (0) and one (1) is infinite. Therefore, it takes infinite power to bring out something out of nothing. Obviously, the faith that can understand and perceive the world as created out of this zero-state (not some singularity), is the faith of the most immense kind. In fact, it is the faith that can do anything because for it anything is possible.[1]
The Concreteness of Faith
But it is not abstract. The concreteness of faith is already evident in its being called the substance of things hoped for.
WORLDS IN THE MAKING
The Greek word aion (αἰών), translated here as “worlds”, can mean “an age”, “the universe”, or “eternity”. It basically carries the concept of being in time. This is not limited to just the creation of the world but extends to also the shaping of history by the providence of God. This is also indicated by the usage of the word rhema̔ῆμα) for “word”, meaning “spoken word” or “command” in specific situations. In other words, faith sees history as only meaningful in connection with the will of God. In light of what Hebrews 11 speaks about, viz. the heroes of faith, it may be seen how history was shaped when different individuals at different moments in time responded to the voice of God. God could only shape the ages because people responded to Him in faith. This doesn’t mean that He is not free to do as He wills, but that when people responded to Him in faith, they became part of His grand design and thus became part of sacred history. Apart from God, they would have been reduced to chaotic nothingness. But faith in God took them beyond their limitations and turned their chaotically oriented world into divinely structured histories. By submitting to the Great Architect, they ensured the beautifying of their lives.
The framing of ages was by the specific word of God “so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Creatio ex nihilo also applies here to the shaping of ages in the progression of time. The faith-heroes brought things into existence out of nothing by their acts of faith in the revelation of God. The impossible was made possible by the faith of God.
FAITH BEYOND PHENOMENA
The word for “things that do appear” is phainomenon (φαινομενων) which is in the middle voice and is used in this form only once in the New Testament. It comes from the word phaino which means “to shine”, “to show”, and “to appear”. The English word derived from this Greek word is “phenomenon” meaning “thing that appears”. A literal rendering of the Greek text would be: “Not out of things that appear (phainomenon) were the things that are seen (blepomena) made.”[2] To the Greek mind, phainomenon simply was an appearance or resemblance and not necessarily the actual image of the thing.[3] For instance, a spoon standing in a glass half-filled with water appears to be bent though not really bent. Perhaps, in using the word phainomenon here the writer of Hebrews also wishes to say that faith doesn’t look at the things that are now apparent to us as the real basis of this visible world. As appearance cannot be the final basis of knowledge, so can it not be the final object of faith. In other words, faith is not controlled by “things that do appear” or phenomenon; on the contrary, it is controlled by the word of God since the worlds were framed by it and not made by the “things that do appear”. In fact, they have appeared out of nothing only because God commanded them to be.
The apparent can often confound faith. For instance, as Peter began walking on water by faith in Christ’s word, his eyes turned to the winds which appeared to him to be strong (or stronger?) and his heart lost confidence and began to fear. The modern world presents before faith more complications to deal with. While in the pre-technological era it was mythical stories that presented a distorted picture of reality, in modern times it is the bombardment of pictures and virtual reality through television and cinema that distorts reality and presents a false phainomena.
The vision of faith transcends the fake realities of this world.
The vision of faith transcends the fake realities of this world. Natural interpretations of the world are never the object of faith. This is why the conflict of faith can sometimes be a tensed one when the mind is wavering between what the natural mind perceives to be and what the Word of God declares to be. The natural mind cannot receive the things of God because they are beyond its understanding. In fact, they might even appear to be absurd to it (1Cor. 2:14). For instance, when Jesus told the mourners at Jairus’ house that the girl was not dead but asleep, all of them jeered at Him (Lk. 8:52, 53). But He put them all out, took the girl by her hand and called her saying “Little girl, arise!” And she immediately arose. There was no denying the fact that the girl was dead. But the vision of faith does not terminate with natural facts. It also does not entertain the negativity of those that cannot glorify God because of their lack of faith: that is the reason why He put them all out. The natural fact was that she was dead. The spiritual truth was that she was asleep; because faith is the substance of things hoped for and sleeping anticipates waking. Faith could see beyond the natural appearances of things. What didn’t appear to be here was that she was alive. What faith could see here was that she was alive, though sleeping. The word that Jesus spoke brought this faith into visible reality. Thus, “not out of things that appear was this thing that was seen made.”
To conclude, one must remember that faith is never self-induced imagination. On the other hand, it is given by God in the sense that the vision of faith is the revealed truth of God. To walk after the imagination of one’s heart is evil (Gen. 6:5). Similarly, to walk against the truth of God is also sin (Rom. 1:18). It is not what one is able to imagine or conceive of that is vital to faith. The most important thing is how far one can believe in the truth declared by His Word. True faith cannot be less than final since to believe God is to believe in His infinite power and possibilities. Thus, nothing is impossible for those who can believe in God.


[1] This doesn’t mean, however, that something illogical like a square-circle or the creation of a necessary being (God) is possible. Illogical or self-contradictory concepts can never have any reality.
[2] τὸ μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων τὰ βλεπόμενα γεγονέναι.
[3] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996),  25.


© Domenic Marbaniang, BASILEIA, Vol.II-2, Oct.2009, pp. 39, 40. Adapted from Explorations of Faith (2009).