Why silence about controversies should not be read as agreement

Just in the past few days both my emails and Twitter stream have contained a few direct questions and challenges. I have had people gloatingly point out to me the story of the death of the latest snake handler to meet his inevitable death, demand my response to the Pope sending Kenneth Copeland a message promoting unity, and ask what I think of Steve Chalke’s article about how he now approaches the Bible. In addition, I have also noticed that David Yonggi Cho has been found guilty of embezzlement from his church on a massive scale.

For a reason that will become apparent in the coming weeks, I have not really had enough time to adequately tackle any of these issues, let alone all of them. But in bullet points, let me make a few quick observations before I get back to what it is that has been distracting me from this blog for a while now.

It is clear than no one can keep up with all the scandals and controversies in the global Church. It is very wrong then as some do to interpret silence as representing agreement with one side or the other in a given matter.

 

The Snake Handler’s doom

  • It is entirely wrong for people to mock at or gloat over the death of someone who foolishly and mistakenly believed they were doing God’s work. Some comments I have read actually seem happy at the tragic loss of a man made in the image of God.
  • Having said that, surely there have to be some limits to religious freedom, and handling deadly snakes should be one of those limits.  This behavior should be opposed by the secular authorities with vigor.  How they do that without affecting other legitimate liberties is a challenge.
  • TV should be banned from covering and giving prominence to snake handlers. Without the oxygen of publicity at least some of them may be discouraged.
  • I unequivocally reject the ridiculous behavior of these individuals as the selfish, self-aggrandizing, testing of God that it is.  Jesus said, quoting Deuteronomy,  “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:12). And theologically that should be enough to puncture these ridiculous practices.
  • No charismatic or penetecostal teacher that I respect gives any credence to these beliefs, and I hope that we can all agree that they are far from mainstream.

The Pope and Kenneth Copeland

  • It is worth pointing out that in common with many TV evangelists Kenneth Copeland does not appear to be a member of any denomination of family of churches that could offer accountability, and, if necessary, discipline to him. (Happy to correct that if I am wrong). As such he does not represent charismatics or pentecostals, and there is little any of us can do other than express our disagreement with things he teaches or says, like in this case.
  • As tempting as it is to be caught up in the media-induced furore over the new Pope, who some are labeling the “Evangelical Pope” there are a number of concerns that we should have.
  • “Unity” for Roman Catholics will always mean the rest of us submitting to their Pope. This we cannot and must never do, since Jesus is the only Head of the Global Church, and he has no singular representative on earth.  We cannot accept any representations from the Pope for organizational unity without him dissolving his own position and becoming the last pope of history. Mere man should never have dared to claim to be the “substitute” or “vicar” of Christ on Earth.
  • Luther’s protest is far from over while indulgences can be offered for following the Pope on Twitter, while prayers are still idolatorously offered to saints, and where salvation remains something that to the Catholic is achieved by faith and works.
  • In case anybody was under any illusion, I remain unabashedly, unashamedly, Protestant, and will not submit to the attempts of the Roman Catholic Church to impose their man-made authority on Christ’s Church on earth.
  • Having said all of that, I am sure that thanks to the unfailing mercies of God, there are no doubt many Roman Catholics who themselves are saved despite the many doctrines of their church that damage and deny the one true gospel.
  • Also, expressing love towards Roman Catholics is a good thing, and there are useful areas we can co-opeate with them on, and even dialogue with them, provided we are holding firm to our convictions and not denying our faith.

 

Steve Chalke’s article

David Yonggi Cho

  • I  fear that unaccountability may have been part of the problem here as well.  Rather than gloating, our response should be to make sure that we, and those who lead us, are part of genuine structures of authority and mutual respect that can help to prevent deviance, and deal with it when it happens.
  • One question I have not been able to find an answer for is, will David Yonggi Cho now be deposed as pastor of one of the World’s largest churches, or will he like so many before him manage to keep hold of his ministry despite this epic failure?
  • How would your church deal with a such a significant problem in its lead pastor?
  • UPDATE: Charisma News are running an article which explains what seem to be some important mitigating factors in this case, but which if correct, leads it to be filed in the “always carefully read documents before you sign them” category.

 

About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock has been a blogger since April 2003, and part of the leadership team of Jubilee Church, London for more than ten years, serving alongside Tope Koleoso. Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus.

Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway. Read more about Adrian Warnock or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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You are warmly invited to comment on this blog. By doing o you demonstrate that you accept Adrian's comment policy.

  • http://www.future-shape-of-church.org/ Edward Green

    Despite significant disagreements with both Copeland and the Pope (although clearly closer to the latter in terms of soteriology and ecclesiology) I sensed a profound movement of the Holy Spirit in the encounter – much as when the Father’s blessing crossed many of the same boundaries. It is a particular gift of charismatic renewal.

    • Alan Molineaux

      I would agree with Edward on this and say we should welcome moves for unity even if we still need to ask important questions. I do wonder whether some charismatics may be all too ready to respond to the pope in the way that MacArthur spoke about charismatics.

      Indeed Adrian I felt your comment about how many catholic charismatics are saved to be worryingly similar to his broad brush approach. Then to use a phrase like ‘many within it are not genuinely saved’ about the broader Christian scene. How can you know this?

      • http://www.future-shape-of-church.org/ Edward Green

        Listening to MacArthur I get the feeling that he considers the salvation of many Christians to be suspect.

        The Roman Catholic Charismatics I imagine would be considering themselves as working out their salvation in fear and trembling, and attaining to the resurrection of the dead. As would I and consider it Christian Orthodoxy.

        • Alan Molineaux

          Trust you to use scripture to prove your point – excellent

          Our Calvinist friends would use different verses to prove you are wrong (you are not BTW)

          Good job we are not being tribal : )

  • Gabriel Powell

    Adrian, I really appreciate what you’ve written here. It’s clear, it’s strong, and it’s unapologetic.

    In light of these strong statements, a significant question many of us have is whether you consider the Catholic Charismatic movement a work of the Holy Spirit. We agree that there are true Christians within the Catholic system, who (as you said) are Christians despite the doctrine of the RCC. So I’m not asking you to affirm or condemn individual people. What I am wondering is if you believe the Catholic Renewal is a genuine work of the Spirit even though 1) it is within an apostate religion context, and 2) it has made no attempt to separate itself from the false gospel and teachings of the RCC.

    Studies show there are well over 100 million charismatic Catholics. The Pope has affirmed them as being the hope of the Church. That’s over 1/5 of the “Charismatic Movement.” Since you claim that the Charismatic Movement is a work of the Spirit, is it truly over 500 million strong (as you have repeatedly claimed), or is it less than 400M?

    Furthermore, though you claim Kenneth Copeland does not represent charismatics, he does. He is a leader in the movement to a far greater extent than Michael Brown or others. The event at which the video of the pope was played was Copeland’s pastor’s conference. Like Benny Hinn, Copeland has been a significant “face” in charismatic circles through television for decades. He enjoys an online following orders of magnitude greater than you or Michael Brown. And while he is not personally accountable to any higher human authority, it is absolutely necessary for charismatics like you and Michael Brown to repudiate his teaching in order to protect those within your circles of influence. Sadly, his influence in places like Africa is astronomical due to the television. This is why the Word of Faith/Prosperity Gospel is the fastest growing movement, now making up the mainstream of the Charismatic Movement globally (Yoido Full Gospel Church is an outspoken prosperity-gospel preaching church).

    There are tens, if not hundreds of millions of Word of Faith followers. Should we reduce Charismatic Movement from less-than 400M to less than 300M?

    Depending on your answers to these questions, I would make the charge that when you defend the 500 million charismatics number, you are seriously broad-brushing the movement, and dangerously causing massive confusion of the gospel.

    That is why I appreciate this article, because it is the kind of clarity regarding false teachers we all need. I hope more is to come.

    • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

      I used the 500 million charismatics stat when speaking of MacAthur’s statements that clearly condemned ALL charismatics:

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2013/11/video-macarthur-consigns-charismatics-to-hell-and-likens-them-to-mormons/

      I certainly do not feel that all 500 million are saved. I wouldn’t want to comment on how many of them are and how many are not. Like the broader “Christian movement” the “charismatic movement” is definitely a mixed movement where many within it are not genuinely saved.

      I am glad that God is very gracious, and chooses to bless us despite our doctrinal errors and even sins. So, I do believe that in some cases within the charismatic catholic movement the Spirit is genuinely at work. I think it is sad, however, that when catholic charismatics have met non-catholic charismatics that the latter have not always been clear with the former about doctrine. A shared experience may bring a bond between people who have very different beliefs, but we should still then share about the differences.

      One of the tragedies of the modern church is that so many charismatics may have an experience of God but they do not focus on truth. Meanwhile many non-charismatics have lost the experience of God that so many christians of the past report: see the free chapter from my book that can be downloaded here: http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/41690-strange-fire-can-we-all-agree-that-experience-of-god-is-vital

      We need the Word AND the Spirit.

      I am more and more convinced that some form of denominations or families of churches, together with some kind of collegiate movement that can validate ministries is essential. I would like to see more groups emerge that are a bit like the Gospel Coalition. It would be great if Christian TV would refuse to broadcast ministries that are not in submission to others.

      As far as repudiating teaching is concerned, I have always been of the opinion that what is most important is to proclaim the TRUTH in such a way that people will recognize error. Interestingly this seems largely to be a NT model as we have to guess or infer what the Apostles were addressing specifically in their letters. If we teach a body of truth that is a firm foundation people will recognize immediately what does not adhere to that standard.

      • Gabriel Powell

        It sounds as though you would feel it is possible to have the Spirit without truth (even though Jesus called Him the Spirit *of* truth). I understand that one could have the Spirit and need significant growth and/or correction, but it sounds like you would say that one can have the Spirit and remain in serious error (in this case, the RCC). Am I reading you accurately?

        Along those lines, I don’t get any indication from you that it is possible for experiences attributed to the Spirit could ever be false (psychologically induced or perhaps even demonic). If a person holds to a different gospel (be it RCC or Word of Faith), is possible to have the Spirit?

        Lastly, while I commend the concept of proclaiming truth, the reality is there is no universe in which doing so will mitigate against error. Much of the NT was written because despite the authoritative teaching of the Apostles, false teachers were infiltrating and influencing the church. This is why Paul repeatedly charges church leaders and makes it a leadership qualification to be able to call out, contradict and reprove false teaching/ers. If you haven’t seen them, our last three blog posts (and the next couple) address this very issue: http://www.gty.org/blog. This is what we see as sorely lacking in the charismatic church.

        Addressing false teaching does not go far enough. Why? Because false teachers rarely speak in clear terms. Steve Chalke and Rob Bell are prime examples. Most people cannot detect the nuances and slight-of-hand the false teachers are masters of. People need to be warned of the teachers AND their teaching.

        I’d love to see some interaction with the biblical arguments we’re making on this issue.

        • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

          Thank you for the thoughtful engagement Gabriel, something that is much appreciated. Sorry for the delay in this reply. As explained in the original post I am somewhat distracted at the moment by something that will become apparent in the coming weeks.

          I agree that the Spirit leads us into truth, but that fortunately for all of us he doesn’t wait till we can dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s before working in us. I
          would have a serious question mark about an ongoing commitment to serious error, however, as I am sure you would.

          I definitely believe that spiritual experiences can have three roots: Holy Spirit, evil spirits and human flesh (or to use modern jargon, a psychological root). I very much concur
          with Jonathan Edward’s approach to this in Religious Affections where he is clear that the presence or absence of certain things that accompany the move of
          the Spirit prove nothing. Its interesting to me how few cessationists seem to agree with his approach on this. In fact many experiences are learned psychological responses.

          I am all for addressing false teaching and at times false teachers. BUT, I am not for branding all charismatics as false teachers. I think MacAthur has done irreparable damage to his own cause by his careless and divisive remarks.

          It is interesting that you mention Steve Chalke and Rob Bell. I have long been a critic of Chalke on this blog (comments date back almost to the beginning of my blog) and more recently of Bell. I did a head to head discussion with Rob Bell chaired by Justin Brierley that you may find interesting to listen to. I would hope that people like you would see me as an ally in such a situation as we are very much closer to each other than I think you appreciate.

          One has to be selective on which issues to address. I tend to address issues involving people I know to be more influential in the circles I am in, and among blog readers. I don’t monitor Christian TV and so don’t tend to target the TV evangelists much simply because I don’t know them, and don’t have time to investigate them fully. When I tackle an issue like Bell it requires me to read material carefully and take a lot of time to engage with it. Interestingly I have a whole series of posts on what I disagree with biblically in the Strange Fire material and few people from the other side have actually chosen to engage with me on that content. I believe his biblical arguments are fatally flawed and feel that they have been adequately demonstrated to be so by myself, Michael Brown, Frank Viola, and others.

          • Gabriel Powell

            I totally understand the distraction. Whatever it is, it sounds very productive. No worries.

            Truly one must be selective on which issues to address. No one would expect every individual leader to address every particular problem in the church. Of that there’s no doubt. Where there is significant doubt, is it seems on the whole, the charismatic movement has been reluctant to “expose the unfruitful deeds of darkness” (Eph 5:11), “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3), and “rebuke them sharply” (Titus 1:13).

            I mentioned Steve Chalke and Rob Bell precisely because you and Andrew Wilson have addressed them. I watched your interaction with Bell a long time ago, and yesterday I watched Andrew Wilson’s interaction with both. I don’t recall the specifics of your interaction with Bell, but as Wilson interacted with them, though he asked good questions and defended orthodoxy, the very scenario gave Chalke and Bell the platform to promote their twisted thinking. It was a friendly discussion of trying to tease out differences, rather than a strong rebuke.

            Can you imagine Paul entering such a discussion with the Judaizers? I think not.

            My point is this: except on rare occasions, faithful charismatics are very good at allowing false teachers to spread their deception unhindered.

            For example, I commend Michael Brown for his writings against prosperity theology. But then he undermines all that by joyfully participating with a leading false teachers. Furthermore, he turns a blind eye and refuses to acknowledge that Benny Hinn continues to promote false doctrine. The day after Brown’s own appearance on Hinn show, purveyors of seed-faith theology were on the show. Brown had strong statements for them, but said nothing of Hinn who invited them!

            That is the kind of thing that boggles our minds. While there are attempts here and there at addressing false teaching, it is undercut by either silence with regard to the promoters of those teachings, or joyful participation with them.

            Honestly, if the false teachers were the target of rebukes, you could easily address multiple false doctrines at once. It’s far more effective. I think that’s why the Holy Spirit instructs us to do so.

          • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

            I think you will find that most charismatics and pentecostals DO precisely what you are saying within the confines of their church family or denominational body. That sounds like a copout but it isn’t. Most of those comments to me seem to be addressed to a local church. Im not so sure that God calls us to be constantly calling out people we have no relationship with and who are not in our church family.

            Actually interacting with people like Rob Bell who claim to be evangelical doesn’t give them any more of a platform when they already have a massive one. It helps demonstrate the heterodoxy of what they are saying. The slippery customers need to have someone pin them down….I described my conversation with Bell like pinning jello to the wall. I’d be interested in hearing if you felt that was an apt description!

            I think the point here is that I am not the Apostle Paul, and nor is John MacAthur. He had an authority over the global emerging church that unless we want to set up a papal system no single person has today. This is why I believe it is ESSENTIAL that we revive the flagging fortunes of denominations and groups of churches and that we regularly ask the question, “Who’s authority are you under?” That way if we could usefully say something like “Well, the majority of people in the AOG are reasonably sound” it would be so helpful. If denominations are really not working, then we need smaller, more organic, more nimble families of churches that can do the same endorsing function. I know for example that if there was a Newfrontiers pastor who drifted into false teaching or erroneous practice they would either be fired, or their local church if it refused to act would be asked to leave Newfrontiers. This should be true in every grouping and if it was would make a lot of the problems we see today vanish (especially if the media refused to give any airtime to anyone who is not in good relationship with an approved denomination or grouping.)

            Rebuking false teachers where you have no relationshjp and no authority to do so is often a fruitless exercise and can quickly degenerate into being a “watch blogger”

            I also believe strongly that to rebuke as false teachers a whole class of Christians is a divisive act. I am not surprised that so many Christians are now saying they do not want to listen to your boss any more.

          • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

            Another point. I think there are two conflicting biblical principles here: that of love, and trying to win someone over, thinking the best of them, and trying to save them from the error of their own ways winsomely, privately correcting them like Priscilla and Aquilla did with Apollos. The second is standing up for and contending for the truth. I am very convinced that actually the Bible calls us to SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE. I agree that charismatics probably need to learn to do a better job of the former. But it is also true that certain cessationists need to do a better job of the latter. Perhaps we could learn from each other. I am saddened that mine and other repeated requests behind the scene for either a public, or indeed a private conversation with someone from GTY fell on deaf ears. It seems to me that nobody in your camp is actually interested in engaging with, understanding, and potentially winning over people from mine. I am convinced, however, that were we to sit down and talk properly face to face we would see each other as brothers with more in common than which separates us.

          • Gabriel Powell

            The trouble we seem to be having is I’m trying to keep the issue at the level of the public rebukes for influential false teachers, while you keep trying to bring it down to more local levels on and lesser areas of disagreement.

            In the New Testament, we see Paul writing to multiple churches about the false teachers in rather strong language. At the same time, he commands the church leaders to do that same kind of work so as to protect the flock from wolves in and outside the church. So we can’t just say, “Paul was an Apostle, so he could do that.” The Holy Spirit commands all elders to be equipped and ready to do it when necessary.

            The NT treats sinning and erring brothers categorically different than false teachers. It seems to me the reason you’ve been most offended is because you refuse to accept the attacks of Strange Fire were not directed at you. They were directed at false teachers who preach a false gospel and whose influence far surpasses any faithful charismatic gospel preacher in the world.

            There was a point at which Pentecostals split over the doctrine of the Trinity. That separation created a clear and distinct line, and a keen eye can tell the difference between the two groups via their doctrinal statements. Perhaps it is time for faithful charismatics to create some kind of declaration of affirmations and denials so as to distinguish themselves from the rest.

          • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

            The majority of the texts you refer to, and possibly all of them, refer precisely to a local body of the church where there are recognized elders who’s task it is to deal with false teachers. It is problematic to apply these to the Internet. They are definitely relevant also in a denominational or family of church context, and the charismatics/pentecostals I know, love and respect do apply them there reasonably well in most cases. Some denominations are probably better at it than others, but I believe all take an attempt. They also all have doctrinal statements and/or values that define authodoxy. Most charismatics accept all the creeds without crossing their fingers.

            In fact, it is problematic to apply them also in a broad way. I still don’t think you have appreciated that the NATURAL reading of the many quotes I collected at is that MacAthur condemns all charismatics. In an age of soundbites and blogposts it is simply irresponsible at best and reprehensible at worst for these kind of careless and hurtful paragraphs to have been ever said or written. None of the quotes are taken out of context. None of them have qualifiers that neutralize them in context. It is not good enough for MacArthur to assume people will know what he is meaning or to say a couple of comments elsewhere to try and counter the impression we all got. This is the issue that leads me and many others to see MacAthur as the most divisive figure in the mainstream evangelical world at the moment.

          • Gabriel Powell

            Let me try this from another angle: Given that the Internet, books, and television did not exist in the NT, how are we to handle false teachers whose influence spreads like wild fire around the world and enters the homes of people in most churches through these mediums?

            When most pastors refuse to call out error (see some of the comments on our blog, or attend churches outside your sphere), is it wrong for someone to stand up and say something? I’ve read up a little bit on your movement. Would you not call someone like MacArthur an apostle in light of his work in helping to establish and strengthen churches around the world? Does that not give him a biblical platform to call out error from your perspective?

            I asked on Twitter and didn’t get an answer: Do you not agree that those who lead millions astray with a false gospel are more divisive and damaging to the body of Christ?

          • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

            I do agree that we should call out false teachers, and from time to time we do. I think we probably go about it in a different way. There is a place for appealing to people and winsomely trying to win them over. Not any evidence of that at the Strange Fire Conference, for sure!

            I think that you can’t have it both ways: either someone like MacArthur is indeed an apostle, in which case he should join hands with other true apostles and together they should reject false teachers, and he would have to first change his doctrine to match this idea, or he is not. And if he is not, what possible authority does he have to take a one man stand against the WHOLE charismatic movement?

            The issue of authority is a vital one in Evangelical circles. It is time we started advocating much more strongly for pastors and ministry leaders to ALWAYS be in submission to others. I wonder if MacArthur has spoken to other leaders that he would respect outside his movement and asked them what they honestly think of the quotes that have caused all this controversy?

            Actually, Gabriel, whilst I obviously believe that the false teachers lead more people astray, among true believers MacArthur has been way more divisive. I think you might be surprised how many people would strongly agree on the gospel, but feel aggrieved, rejected, and condemned by an organization who’s very name, “Grace to You” has become ironic, or at the very least needs “unless you are a charismatic” attached to the end.

  • http://www.DrewThomas.org/ Drew Thomas

    I loved what you had to say about Kenneth Copeland and the Pope. Right on. I wrote an article about some of my concerns the day the Pope spoke at Copeland’s conference. http://drewthomas.org/2014/01/27/pope-francis-unifies-roman-catholics-and-evangelicals-once-and-for-all/

  • http://www.gentlewisdom.org/ Peter Kirk

    Adrian, you say that “we cannot and must never” submit to the Pope. But that goes against the Scripture which commands us to submit to one another in love. This Pope is coming to charismatic leaders in an attitude of submission in love. In return we should submit to him. That doesn’t of course mean accepting all of the doctrines or claims which have been made for the papacy in past generations of the Roman Catholic church. But it does mean accepting his approach as genuine from a Christian brother. Yes, a lot of doctrinal issues need to be sorted out before there can be full unity, and this Pope has started to work on some of them. I would not want to offer any man or woman the kind of canonical obedience which is currently expected of Catholics. But I would be prepared to accept the Pope as the head of a denomination or church grouping that I was part of, much as you have accepted the headship of Terry Virgo.

    In another comment here you actually advocate the principle of a pyramid of Christian leaders in submission to others, with “some kind of collegiate movement that can validate ministries”. That implies someone at the top of the pyramid. Who better than the current Pope? If not him, who would you put at the top, and how would you stop them from becoming a new Pope?

    Churchill’s attitude of “we shall never surrender” was a good one when facing a real enemy. But the Roman Catholic Church is not our enemy, and it is changing quickly. In these circumstances words like “never” should not be part of a Christian’s vocabulary.

    • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

      There is a WORLD of difference between a denomination or family of churches that may have a singular leader but see itself as part of a broader evangelical family of denominations where other leaders mutually recognize one another and the situation with the Pope. The Pope believes he is Christ’s singular representative on earth. Unless that view changes (in which case he is no longer a Pope!) we can never have any kind of organizational unity with Roman Catholics. There is ZERO biblical evidence that Jesus intended to create a position “head of The global Church” to be filled by anyone other than Jesus Christ

      • http://www.gentlewisdom.org/ Peter Kirk

        Adrian, I think you need to research Catholicism a bit more, to discover whether it is true, and in what sense, that “The Pope believes he is Christ’s singular representative on earth.” Officially he is more like the first among equals, within the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, perhaps the “singular leader” of these Christian ministers. Yes, there are some overblown titles like “Pontifex Maximus” which would better be dropped, but they are not of the essence of the papacy. This Pope has already distanced himself from any claims of infallibility.

        But perhaps your real objection is to the whole concept of a Christian priesthood, of any subset of men (or women) being Christ’s representatives on earth. I would counter that by claiming that all Christians are Christ’s representatives on earth, the priesthood of all believers. From that, on your argument if not mine, it is right that there should be a singular representative of Christ at the head of any family of churches. And unless you see division between churches as positively good, the implication is that it is good for there to be one worldwide family of churches with one person at its head, who is thereby on your definition “Christ’s singular representative on earth” and so a Pope!

        PS Please don’t embed auto-play videos in your blog. I usually read this in a place where I can play sound only with care.

  • Alex Symczak

    There are billions of Christians in the world, split into hundreds and hundreds of denominations and sects. In each of these denominations there are a bunch of people who believe in this big, powerful man in the sky they call God. They might meet once or even twice every week in a big building to worship this guy. They pray and talk to him on a regular basis. There are even people whose entire living is based on talking to this guy and telling others about it. And each of these denominations know the “truth.” They know who God is and what he wants. They know what it means to do “God’s will,” and yet, their “truth” conflicts with the “truth” of all the other denominations. In addition, this truth seems to change every few decades (on issues like slavery, discrimination, women’s rights, gay marriage) in accordance with secular thought. In light of all that, why should I believe you when you say that the snake handlers where foolish and mistaken when they thought they were doing God’s work? Why should I give you any creditability? I’m sure the snake handlers would disagree with you and state their positions with just as much devout faith.

    • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

      Alex,
      There is more agreement than disagreement between most denominations. On many issues the church has been at the forefront of societal change. Snake handlers are a tiny minority who are not accepted by most as having any legitimacy when it comes to this issue.

      • Alex Symczak

        Wow, you got to this fast. Anyway…

        So I should take your word over theirs because it’s more popular? The majority viewpoint wins?

        Also, thanks for actually responding to this. I tend to have a lot of trouble getting responses when I venture outside of the atheist channel. So, kudos to you!

        • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

          Majority doesn’t always win….Look at Martin Luther who stood basically alone against the Roman Catholic Church. But I think that when you are looking at a majority view that actually tallies up with a reasonable approach to the Scriptures then I guess thats two strikes in favor of that opinion. Take a look at Mark 16 and Acts 28 and tell me if you think that put together those verses realistically could be used to call a church service where pastors ritually handle snakes like some kind of Russian Roulette?

          To Christians the Bible is our authority. We believe that it is clear about all the major things. I have no problem by the way with the fact that on some more minor issues different interpretations abound. Of course I still think mine are the correct ones ;-) but I am hold those disputable matters much more lightly than I do the core truths.

          • Alex Symczak

            Whoa, be careful there. I’m sure you and I have very different views of what constitutes a reasonable approach to the scriptures. While I must say that I don’t think they should be handling poisonous snakes based on those verses, I can definitely see how they got the idea and how they justified it. In fact, I’ve heard crazier things concluded from scripture.

            But your second paragraph kind of brings me back to my original point. As soon as you say anything about religion it leads to a question of why I should accept it when I can turn to another person and hear a completely different view. Sometimes both of these views will be considered justified because they got the answer from talking to God himself. How do I reconcile that?

            When you say the Bible is your authority, even that varies wildly from person to person. Some take it as literal truth, every word, even going so far as to designate a specific version (eg. The King James Version) as the specific Bible that you must use. Such a person may have absolute views on the bible and he will not have a distinction between “core” truths and more disputable truths. Others take the bible very lightly, some going so far as to say there is little truth in it and it is mostly just stories meant to teach us about life. I’m not even sure I could find total agreement on what you would consider to be “core” or “major” truths.

            If I remember correctly, it was Martin Luther himself that advocated against having the clergy interpret and disseminate biblical information. He wanted everybody to read it for his or herself, and he thought the meaning would be clear. Of course, this lead to the excessive splintering and thousands of denominations that exist today. So why should I think any of them got it right? This is an important reason I have chosen to just disbelieve it all. I feel justified in saying that none of these people are in contact with an omnipotent, omniscient being when they can’t come to a conclusion on simple issues despite talking with him and worshiping him all the time. And this is all without even looking beyond Christianity towards the other faiths that make up the other 75% of the world.

            P.S. sorry for the length

          • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

            Thats quite ok to send a long message. It is good to dialogue. It seems you almost concede my point about the snake handlers. The Bible doesn’t clearly teach that, though some have made an inference from it. Most of the differences between evangelical denominations are over inferences from the Bible rather than clear statements. So, for example, the Bible nowhere says it is against abortion. BUT, it is against murder, and in many places implies that human beings are alive and people before birth (see e.g. John jumping for joy in his womb, and psalm 139). Inferences like this, though widely accepted, are not as substantial as for example the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. Actually that idea forms the core of Christianity. With the relatively recent exception of certain liberal or “progressive” christians, every single Christian group all round the world believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead. The veracity or otherwise of that claim is what Christianity stands or falls on. Nothing else matters as much. Take a look at http://adrianwarnock.com/resurrection if you want to see why I believe that he DID rise again.

          • Alex Symczak

            You know what? I was writing a long response to this, but I think I’ve just been jumping around a central question that should just be clearly stated. You may have already kind of talked about this, but I don’t want to assume too much. So I’ll just throw it out there:

            Thousands and Thousands (Millions? Maybe more?) of god claims have existed throughout history, and more may continue being formed in the future. Many of these claims contain extravagant stories of gods and goddesses and who they are, where they came from, what their relationship to humans are, what their relationship to each other is, what they want from humans, etc. Adherents to these claims often cite direct experiences with their deities and often direct contact/communication with them. This is often one of their strongest justifications for their beliefs, and of course, they almost always claim to have the “truth.” They may have information straight from their deity regarding how they should act, and they will take this as absolute. An interesting study is a question asked by Patheos, Why am I… http://www.patheos.com/Spirituality/Topics/Why-I-am-a.html which was rife with stories about feeling a god when they read their holy book, or going to a meadow and meeting their god first hand, or a variety of other experiences.

            With all that in mind, how did you come to choose your particular denomination of Christianity and reject all other claims, including those of the snake handlers?


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