Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Roman Catholicism - Apostolic or Apostate?


Is the Roman Catholic Church the one true church founded by Christ, or an apostate church that has departed from the faith of the apostles? This question had a very clear-cut answer 400 years ago when the Reformers departed from the heretical teaching of Popes. Today, however, there are many evangelicals who are not so sure.
Jude warned the church to contend for the faith against apostates who attempt to steal away disciples. In verse 4 of his epistle, he wrote, "For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign and Lord." Jude identifies the apostates by certain characteristics. They are ungodly because they supplant God's sovereign authority with an authority of their own. Apostates turn the grace of God into a commodity that can be bought, bartered or merited. They pervert the gospel of grace into a gospel of works. They deny the supremacy and sovereignty of Christ and give His divine attributes and titles to others. They deny the sufficiency of the word and work of Christ. It is these impostors who lead people away from "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." Do any of these characteristics convict the Catholic Church of being apostate? Let us compare them with teachings from the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph numbers are in parenthesis). 


Apostates teach a different gospel

The Catholic Church has nullified the Gospel of grace by adding additional requirements for salvation. It teaches baptism (1257), church membership (845), the sacraments (1129), obeying the commandments (2068), good works (1821) and the sacrifice of the mass (1405) are all necessary for salvation. This is another gospel, and those who teach it are condemned as severely as Paul condemned the Judaizers for teaching a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). Catholic priests are needed to dispense salvation through seven sacraments. From baptism through purgatory, Catholics are taught they can gain a right standing before God by what they do instead of believing what God has done for them through Christ. Catholics are taught they "can merit the graces needed for the attainment of eternal life" (2027). Each Catholic must attain their own salvation (1477). 


Apostates deny salvation on the merits of Christ alone

The Catholic Church teaches that through indulgences "Catholics can attain their own salvation and at the same time cooperate in saving their brothers" (1477). The pope claims to have the power to transfer the merits of one sinner to another to reduce their punishment for sin. "An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment due to sins which the sinner gains through the Church, which... dispenses from the Vatican treasury...the prayers and good works of Mary and all the saints" (1471-79). Rome also "commends almsgiving and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead" (1032). From Scripture we know that "no man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him, the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough" (Psalm 49:7-8).


Apostates condemn the Gospel of grace

For over 400 years Rome has not only preached a different gospel but also has condemned anyone who believes the glorious Gospel of grace. Many Christians are unaware the Councils of Trent and Vatican II issued over 100 anathema's (condemnations) on anyone who believes salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. All these condemnations are still in effect today as evidenced by these two examples:


"If anyone says the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, let him be anathema."1
The Catholic Church, "condemns with anathema those who say that indulgences are useless or that the Church does not have the power to grant them."2

Rome also condemns anyone who believes they are assured of eternal life. This anathema denies the words of Christ, who said, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:28). For those who reject the words of Christ, Jesus said, "there is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day" (John 12:48). Catholics must recognize there are more serious consequences for being condemned by the infallible Word of God than by the fallible teachings of their church.
.

Apostates deny the sufficiency of Christ's atonement

Catholic teaching denies that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to expiate all the guilt and punishment of sin. Instead they teach a cleansing fire is needed for "those who are expiating their sins in purgatory" (1475). The doctrine of Purgatory is an utter denial of the sufficiency of Christ's perfect sacrifice for sin, yet Catholics are asked to accept it as a grace (1473). The pope has the power to bring them out of purgatory, but refuses to do so, unless indulgences are offered in their name.3 "All who die still imperfectly purified undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven" (1030).
Rome teaches that Catholics can carry their own cross to expiate their sins and the sins of others (1474-77). What a glaring contradiction this is. The cross of the sinless and perfect savior is said to be insufficient to expiate sins, yet the cross of lowly sinners is said to be sufficient to do what Christ could not do. No priest can tell Catholics how many indulgences are needed or how long one has to suffer for each sin. This only perpetuates a religious system that holds Catholics in bondage and at the mercy of their church indefinitely. However, the writer of Hebrews declared, "For by one offering He [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (10:14), and "after [Christ] had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven" (1:3). 


Apostates deny Christ's sacrifice is finished

The Catholic Church teaches the sacrifice of Jesus must continue daily on its altars for the reparation of the sins of the living and the dead (1414). This is done so that sins may be expiated and the wrath of God may be appeased. Although Scriptures teach the Lord's supper is a memorial, Rome declares it is a real sacrifice and asserts Jesus is immolated (killed) as a sacrificial victim each time the Mass is offered. "The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice" (1367). Rome claims the priest has the power to call Jesus down from heaven, and transubstantiate a wafer into his physical body, blood, soul and divinity. After almighty God has been reduced to a lifeless, inanimate piece of bread the priest lifts it up to be worshipped. The priest then re-presents Jesus Christ as a sacrifice to the Father. This practice is strongly rebuked by Scripture. Paul wrote "we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again...the death he died, he died to sin once for all" (Romans 6:9-10). In anticipation that apostates would declare Christ is present when He is not, Jesus warned us, if anyone says to you, "'Look here is the Christ,' or 'There He is!' do not believe it" (Matthew 24:23). When Jesus "offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God...there is no longer any sacrifice for sin" (Hebrews 10: 12,18). To deny the words of our blood stained Savior, who said "It is finished" is to reject the essential doctrine of the Gospel (John 19:30). For if the work of redemption is not finished then all humanity remains condemned to hell and dead in their sins. 


Apostates deny the sufficiency and authority of God's Word

Rome declares that Scripture along with "tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence." Pagan traditions and practices began tainting the doctrinal purity of the early church when it ignored the rebuke of Jesus concerning tradition. Jesus firmly denounced religious leaders for allowing their traditions to nullify the Word of God (Mark 7:6-13). Apostates show a lack of awe and reverence of God's sovereign power by supplanting His authority with an authority of their own. They do this by removing, adding, and altering the inspired Word of God.
Catholic Bishops have removed the 2nd commandment of God in their new Catechism (page 496). It is no wonder Rome removed the commandment, which forbids the making and worshipping of statues. There are huge profits that have been made from the sale of statues. In the 16th century Rome added the Apocrypha to its canon of inspired books in an attempt to justify its doctrine of Purgatory. Rome should take heed of the warnings God gives to those who add to His word. "Do not add to his words or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar" (Prov. 30:6). 


Apostates demand submission to mediators other than Christ

Catholics must submit to the pope who "by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, has full supreme and universal power over the whole church, a power he can exercise unhindered" (882). They must also submit to The Magisterium, which is said to be the infallible teaching authority of the Church. Catholics are taught they cannot receive forgiveness for mortal sins unless they confess to yet another mediator, a priest. Catholics also seek Mary as a mediator who has been elevated to Mediatrix, Co-redeemer, and Advocate by Rome. Yet Scripture reveals Jesus is the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus alone is "holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, [and] exalted above the heavens" (Hebrews 7:26).
Is the Roman Catholic Church guilty of apostasy? The evidence is overwhelming. The truth must be told in love with courage and conviction. The eternal destiny of millions of precious souls hangs in the balance. The Catholic Church has fallen away from the faith of the apostles and gone the way of apostates.
How are Christians to respond? Toward individual Catholics we must obey the Scriptures, and call them out of their apostate churches (Revelation 18:4). We must proclaim the true Gospel and make disciples of them! Toward the religious system that holds Catholics in bondage, we must expose their unfruitful deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). We must correct and rebuke their false teaching (2 Tim 4:2) and contend for the faith (Jude 3). And finally we must avoid those who oppose sound doctrine (Romans 16:17). This means refusing to join hands with apostates "to advance the mission of Christ." It means rebuking the ecumenical thrust for unity at the expense of truth. We must obey the Scriptures for the glory and purpose of Christ. May He be exalted and praised in all that we do!


Footnotes:

1 Canon 9, Sixth Session, Council of Trent
2 Sacred Liturgy, Chapter IV, paragraph 8, Vatican Council II
3 Sacred Liturgy, Chapter IV, paragraph 7, Vatican Council II

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Conscience, Revisited

Drugs, therapy, entertainment--they're all used to silence a guilty conscience.  But for the Christian, the conscience is the key to freedom.
 

In 1984 an Avianca Airlines jet crashed in Spain.  Investigators studying the accident made an eerie discovery.  The "black box" cockpit recorders revealed that several minutes before impact a shrill, computer-synthesized voice from the plane's automatic warning system told the crew repeatedly in English, "Pull up!  Pull up!"
 
The pilot, evidently thinking the system was malfunctioning, snapped, "Shut up, Gringo!" and switched the system off.  Minutes later the plane plowed into the side of a mountain.  Everyone on board died.
 
When I saw that tragic story on the news shortly after it happened, it struck me as a perfect parable of the way modern people treat guilt--the warning messages of their consciences.
 
The wisdom of our age says guilt feelings are nearly always erroneous or hurtful; therefore we should switch them off.  But is that good advice?  What, after all, is the conscience--this sense of guilt we all seem to feel?
 
The conscience is generally seen by the modern world as a defect that robs people of their self-esteem.  Far from being a defect or a disorder, however, your ability to sense your own guilt is a tremendous gift from God.  He designed the conscience into the very framework of the human soul.  It is the automatic warning system that cries, "Pull up!  Pull up!" before you crash and burn.
 
The conscience, Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote in the seventeenth century, is the soul reflecting upon itself.  Conscience is at the heart of what distinguishes the human creature.  People, unlike animals, can contemplate their own actions and make moral self-evaluations.  That is the very function of conscience.
 
The conscience has an innate ability to sense right and wrong.  Everyone, even the most unspiritual heathen, has a conscience:
 
When Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their consciences bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them." (Romans 2:14-15, emphasis added)
 
The conscience entreats you to do what you believe is right and restrains you from doing what you believe is wrong.  But don't equate the conscience with the voice of God or the law of God.  It is a human faculty that judges your actions and thoughts by the light of the highest standard you perceive.  When you violate your conscience, it condemns you, triggering feelings of shame, anguish, regret, consternation, anxiety, disgrace, and even fear.  Conversely, when you follow your conscience, it commends you, bringing joy, serenity, self-respect, well-being, and gladness.
 
The word conscience is a combination of the Latin words scire ("to know") and con ("together").  The Greek word for "conscience" is found more than thirty times in the New Testament--suneidesis, which also literally means "co-knowledge."
 
Conscience is knowledge together with oneself.  That is to say, your conscience knows your inner motives and true thoughts.  It is above reason and beyond intellect.  You can rationalize, trying to justify yourself in your own mind, but a violated conscience will not be easily convinced.
 
The Hebrew word for conscience is leb, usually translated "heart" in the Old Testament.  The conscience is so much at the core of the human soul that the Hebrew mind did not draw a distinction between conscience and the rest of the inner person.  Thus when Moses recorded that Pharaoh "hardened his heart" (Exodus 8:15), he was saying that Pharaoh had steeled his conscience against God's will.
 
When Scripture speaks of a tender heart (cf. 2 Chronicles 34:27), it refers to a sensitive conscience.  The "upright in heart" (Psalm 7:10) are those with pure consciences.  And when David prayed, "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10), he was seeking to have his life and his conscience cleansed.
 
Multitudes today respond to their conscience by attempting to suppress it, overrule it, or silence it.  They conclude that the real blame for their wrong behavior lies in some childhood trauma, the way their parents raised them, societal pressures, or other causes beyond their control. 
 
Sometimes people convince themselves that their sin is a clinical problem, not a moral one--and therefore define their drunkenness, sexual perversion, immorality, or other vices as "diseases" or "conditions."  To respond to the conscience with such self-excusing arguments is tantamount to telling the conscience, "Shut up, Gringo!"
 
It is possible virtually to nullify the conscience through repeated abuse.  Paul spoke of people whose consciences were so convoluted that their "glory is in their shame" (Philippians 3:19; cf. Romans 1:32).  Both the mind and the conscience can become so defiled that they cease making distinctions between what is pure and what is impure (cf. Titus 1:15).
 
After so much violation, the conscience finally falls silent.  Morally, those with defiled consciences are left flying blind.  The annoying warning signals may be gone, but the danger certainly is not; in fact,the danger is greater than ever.
 
Furthermore, even the most defiled conscience will not remain silent forever.  When standing at the Judgment, every person's conscience will side with God, the righteous judge.  The worst sin-hardened evildoer will discover before the throne of God that he has a conscience that testifies against him.
 
The conscience, however, is not infallible.  Nor is it a source of revelation about right and wrong.  Its role is not to teach you moral and ethical ideals, but to hold you accountable to the highest standards of right and wrong you know.
 
Both tradition and truth inform the conscience, so the standards it holds you to are not necessarily biblical ones (1 Corinthians 8:6-9).  The conscience can be needlessly condemning in areas where there is no biblical issue.  In fact, it can try to hold you to the very thing the Lord is trying to release you from (Romans 14:14, 20-23)!
 
The conscience, to operate fully and in accord with true holiness, must be informed by the Word of God.  So even when guilt feelings don't have a biblical basis, they are an important spiritual distress sign.  If your conscience is misfiring--sending out signals from a weak conscience--that should spur you to seek the spiritual growth that would bring your conscience more in harmony with God's Word.
 
Your conscience reacts to the convictions of your mind and therefore can be encouraged and sharpened in accordance with God's Word.  The wise Christian wants to master biblical truth so that the conscience is completely informed and judges right because it is responding to God's Word.  A regular diet of Scripture will strengthen a weak conscience or restrain an overactive one.  Conversely, error, human wisdom, and wrong moral influences filling the mind will corrupt or cripple the conscience.
 
In other words, the conscience functions like a skylight, not a light bulb.  It lets light into the soul; it does not produce its own.  Its effectiveness is determined by the amount of pure light you expose it to, and by how clean you keep it.  Cover it or put it in total darkness and it ceases to function.  That's why the apostle Paul spoke of the importance of a clear conscience (1 Timothy 3:9) and warned against anything that would defile or muddy the conscience (1 Corinthians 8:7; Titus 1:15).
 
Or, to switch metaphors, your conscience is like the nerve endings in your fingertips.  Its sensitivity to external stimuli can be damaged by the buildup of calluses or even wounded so badly as to be virtually impervious to any feeling.  Paul also wrote of the dangers of a calloused conscience (1 Corinthians 8:10), a wounded conscience (v. 12), and a seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2).
 
Psychopaths, serial killers, pathological liars, and other people who seem to lack any moral sense are extreme examples of people who have ruined or desensitized their consciences.  Can such people really sin without remorse or scruples?  If so, it is only because they have ravaged their own consciences through relentless immorality and lawlessness.
 
The conscience is an inextricable part of the human soul. Though it may be hardened, cauterized, or numbed into apparent dormancy, the conscience continues to store up evidence that will one day be used as a testimony to condemn the guilty soul.  But for the Christian, the conscience is a tremendous asset of spiritual growth.
 
Take time each day to inform your conscience by reading God's Word.  Never train yourself to ignore your conscience, but respond quickly to its warnings.  And then cleanse your conscience through consistent confession as you seek forgiveness from those you've sinned against--whether God or others.  Those things will strengthen your conscience so that you can enjoy the freedom and blessings of a clear conscience before God.

By John MacArthur (http://www.gty.org/resources/Articles/A273_The-Conscience-Revisited#.Tnk6tOwR-uI)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Illustrations of Salvation: Rescue




Metaphor: Rescue- Jesus promises to rescue and keep us safe forever (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5)


Positive: Saved-

  • Jesus came to save the world: "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (John 3:17)
  • Saves us from our sins: (Ephesians 2:1-9)
  • Saves us from God's just wrath: "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!" (Romans 5:9)
  • Saves us from death: "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." (Heb. 2:14-15)
  • Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
  • Jesus gives eternal life: "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:28)
Negative: Perishing-


(Shows man's inability to bridge gap)
  • God does not want anyone to perish: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
  • Eternal Death: "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:14-15) (also-Matt. 25:41,46; Matt 7:13;)
  • Gehenna (Garbage Dump): "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." (Luke 12:5) (also-Matt. 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43-47;)
Illustrations:
  • Jesus speaks of the wicked perishing in "Gehenna."
  • Gehenna is another word for hell, but it was also the garbage dump of the city of Jerusalem, where garbage was continually burning.
  • Our sin had broken us and made us useless to God.
  • We were ready for the garbage dump.
  • Jesus came to rescue us from the never-ending trash pile.
  • Jesus' cross stands as a bridge that leads us to eternal safety.

(Info taken from: http://www.rose-publishing.com/index.cfm)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

WHERE DID THE 'RACES' COME FROM?


(BY KEN HAM, DR. CARL WIELAND & DR. DON BATTEN)
      Many people today are confused about the origin of the so-called "races" of people on the Earth. But the Bible and accepted scientific principles provide easy-to-understand answers. They may challenge your entire thinking on this important topic.

      In the 1800s, before Darwinian evolution was popularized, most people, when talking about "races," were referring to such groups as the "English race," "Irish race," and so on. However, this all changed when Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

      Darwinian evolution was (and still is) inherently a racist philosophy, teaching that different groups or "races" of people evolved at different times and rates, so some groups are more like their ape-like ancestors than others. The Australian Aborigines, for instance, were considered the missing links between an ape-like ancestor and the rest of mankind.1 This resulted in terrible prejudices and injustices towards the Australian Aborigines.2 A leading evolutionary spokesperson, Stephen Jay Gould, stated that "Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1850, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory."3

      Racist attitudes fuelled by evolutionary thinking were largely responsible for an African pygmy actually being displayed, along with an orangutan, in a cage in the Bronx Zoo.4

      As a result of Darwinian evolution, many people started thinking in terms of the different people groups around the world representing different "races," but within the context of evolutionary philosophy. This has resulted in many people today, consciously or unconsciously, having ingrained prejudices against certain other groups of people.

      However, all human beings in the world today are classified as Homo sapiens sapiens. Scientists today admit that, biologically, there really is only one race of humans. For instance, a scientist at the Advancement of Science Convention in Atlanta stated, "Race is a social construct derived mainly from perceptions conditioned by events of recorded history, and it has no basic biological reality."5 This person went on to say, "Curiously enough, the idea comes very close to being of American manufacture."5

      Reporting on research conducted on the concept of race, the American ABC News science page stated, "More and more scientists find that the differences that set us apart are cultural, not racial. Some even say that the word "race" should be abandoned because it's meaningless."6 The article went on to say that "we accept the idea of race because it's a convenient way of putting people into broad categories, frequently to suppress them. . .The most hideous example was provided by Hitler's Germany. And racial prejudice remains common throughout the world."7

      In a 1998 article in the Journal of Counseling and Development,8 researchers argued that the term "race" is basically so meaningless that it should be discarded.

      Because of the influences of Darwinian evolution and the resulting prejudices, we believe everyone (and especially Christians) should abandon the term "race(s)." We could refer instead to the different "people groups" around the world.





The Bible and 'Race'


      The Bible does not even use the word "race" in reference to people,9 but does describe all human beings as being of "one blood" (Acts 17:26). This of course emphasizes that we are all related, for all humans are descendants of the first man Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45).10 Because Jesus Christ also became a descendant of Adam, being called the "last Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:45), this is why the gospel should be preached to all tribes and nations. Any descendant of Adam can be saved, because our mutual relative by blood (Jesus Christ) died and rose again.11

'Racial' differences


      But some people think there must be different "races" of people because there appear to be major differences between various groups, such as skin color and eye shape.

      The truth, though, is that these so-called "racial characteristics" are only minor variations among the people groups. Scientists have found that if one were to take any two people from anywhere in the world, the basic genetic differences between these two people would typically be around 0.2% - even if they came from the same people group.12 But, these socalled "racial" characteristics that many think are major differences (skin color, eye shape, etc.) account for only 6% of this 0.2% variation, which amounts to a mere 0.012% difference genetically.13

      In other words, the so-called "racial" differences are absolutely trivial. Overall, there is more variation within any group than there is between one group and another. If a white person is looking for a tissue match for an organ transplant, for instance, the best match may come from a black person, and vice versa. The ABC (USA) news science page stated, "What the facts show is that there are differences among us, but they stem from culture, not race."14

      The only reason many people think these differences are major is because they've been brought up in a culture that has taught them to see the differences this way.

      According to the Bible, all people on Earth today descended from Noah and his wife, his three sons and their wives, and before that from Adam and Eve (Gen. 1-11). The Bible tells us how the population that descended from Noah's family had one language and were living together and disobeying God's command to "fill the earth" (Gen. 9:1; 11:4).15 God confused their language, causing a break-up of the population into smaller groups which scattered over the Earth (Gen. 11:8-9). Using modern genetics, we will show how, following such a break-up of a population, variations in skin color, for example, can develop in only a few generations. And there is good evidence to show that the various groups of people we have today have not been separated for huge periods of time.16

One race


      There is really only one race-the human race. Scripture distinguishes people by tribal or national groupings, not by skin color or physical appearances. Clearly, though, there are groups of people who have certain features (e.g., skin "color") in common, which distinguish them from other groups. As stated earlier, we prefer to call these "people groups" rather than "races."

      All peoples can freely interbreed and produce fertile offspring. This shows that the biological differences between the "races" are not very great at all. In fact, the DNA differences are trivial, as already pointed out.

      Anthropologists generally classify people into a fairly small number of main racial groups, such as the Caucasoid (European or "white"17), the Mongoloid (which includes the Chinese and the American Indians), the Negroid ("black" Africans), and the Australoid (the Australian Aborigines). Within each classification, there may be many different subgroups.

      Virtually all evolutionists would now agree that the various people groups did not have separate origins; that is, in the evolutionary belief system, the different people groups did not each evolve from a different group of animals. So they would agree with Biblical creationists that all people groups have come from the same original population. Of course, they believe that such groups as the Aborigines and the Chinese have had many tens of thousands of years of separation. Most people believe that there are such vast differences between groups that there had to be many years for these differences to somehow develop.

      One reason for this is that many people believe that the observable differences come from some people having unique features in their hereditary make-up which others lack. This is an understandable but incorrect idea. Let's look at skin color, for instance. It is easy to think that since different groups of people have yellow skin, red skin, black skin, white skin, and brown skin, there must be many different skin pigments or colorings. And since different chemicals for coloring would mean a different genetic recipe or code in the hereditary blueprint in each people group, it appears to be a real problem. How could all those differences develop within a short time?

      Here's how. We all have the same coloring pigment in our skin: melanin. This is a dark brownish pigment that we all have in special cells in our skin. If we have none (as do people called albinos, who suffer from an inherited mutation-caused defect, so they lack the ability to produce melanin), then we will have a very white or pink skin coloring. If we produce a little melanin, it means that we will be European white. If our skin produces a great deal of melanin, we will be a very deep black. And in between, of course, are all shades of brown. There are no other significant skin pigments.18

      Generally, whatever feature we may look at, no people group has anything that is, in its essence, uniquely different from that possessed by another. For example, the Asian, or almond, eye gets its appearance simply by having an extra fold of fat (see Figure 1). Both Asian and Caucasian eyes have fat†ó†the latter simply have less of it.

      What does melanin do? It protects the skin against damage by ultraviolet light from the Sun. If you have too little in a very sunny environment, you will more easily suffer from sunburn and skin cancer. If you have a great deal of melanin, and you live in a country where there is little sunshine, it is much harder for your body to get adequate amounts of vitamin D (which needs sunshine for its production in your body). You may then suffer from vitamin D deficiency, which could cause a bone disorder such as rickets.

      We also need to be aware that one is not born with a genetically fixed amount of melanin, but rather with a genetically fixed potential to produce a certain amount, increasing in response to sunlight. For example, if you are in a Caucasian community, you may have noticed that when your friends headed for the beach at the very beginning of summer, they may, if they spent their time indoors during winter, have all been more or less the same pale white. As the summer went on, however, some became much darker than others.

      But how do we explain the formation of many different skin colors arising in such a short Biblical time scale (few thousand years)? Let's look at a few observations that can help us to explain this. From here on, whenever we use such words as different colors, we are, strictly speaking, referring to different shades of the one color, melanin.

      If a person from a very black people group marries someone from a very white group, their offspring (called "mulattos") are mid-brown. It has long been known that when mulattos marry each other, their offspring may be virtually any "color," ranging from very black to very white. Understanding this gives us the clues we need for our overall question, so we must first look, in a simple way, at some of the basic facts of heredity.

Heredity


      Each of us carries information in our body that describes us a bit like the way a blueprint describes a finished building. It determines not only that we will be human beings, rather than cabbages or crocodiles, but also whether we will have blue eyes, short nose, long legs, etc. When a sperm fertilizes an egg, all the information that specifies how the person will be built (ignoring such superimposed factors as exercise and diet) is already present. This information is in coded form in our DNA.19 To illustrate coding, a piece of rope with beads on it can carry a message in Morse code.

      Can you see how the piece of rope, by using a simple sequence of short beads, long beads, and spaces (to represent the dots and dashes of Morse code) can carry the same information as the English word "help" typed on a sheet of paper? The entire Bible could be written thus in Morse code on a long enough piece of rope.

      In a similar way, the human blueprint is written in a code (or language convention), which is carried on very long chemical strings called DNA. This is by far the most efficient information storage system known, surpassing any foreseeable computer technology.20 This information is copied (and reshuffled) from generation to generation as people reproduce.

      The word "gene" refers to a small part of that information which carries the instructions for manufacturing only one enzyme, for example.21 A small portion of the "message string," with only one specification on it, would be a simple way of understanding this gene concept.

      So, going back to that cell, and that egg which has just been fertilized -where does all of its information, its genes, come from? One half has come from the father (carried by the sperm), and the other half from the mother (carried in the egg).

Skin 'color'


      We know that skin "color" is governed by more than one gene. For simplicity, let's assume there are only two,22A and B, with the correspondingly "more silent" genes a and b. In a similar way to the eye example, the small letters in this case will code for a small amount of melanin in the skin. So, a very dark people which, on inter-marriage, kept producing only very dark offspring, would be AABB; the same situation for a very fair-skinned people would be aabb. Let's look at what combinations would result in a mulatto (the offspring of an AABB and aabb union). (See Figure 2)

Figure 3:
      What would happen, by using a punnett square, if two such mid-brown mulatto people were to marry (the shading of the squares roughly indicates the resultant skin color)? (Figure 3)

      Surprisingly, we find that an entire range of "colors," from very white to very black, can result in only one generation, beginning with this particular type of midbrown parents.

      Those children born with AABB, who are pure black (in the sense of consistently having no other types of offspring), have no genes for lightness at all. If they were to marry and migrate to a place where their offspring could not intermarry with people of lighter color, all their children will be black-a pure "black line" will result.

      Those with aabb are white. If they marry other whites and migrate to a place where their offspring cannot marry darker people, a pure (in the same sense) "white line" will result-they have lost genes that give them the ability to be black, that is, to produce a large amount of melanin.

      So you can see how it is easily possible, beginning with two middlebrown parents, to get not only all the "colors," but also people groups with stable coloring. But what about people groups that are permanently middle-brown, such as we have today? Again, this is easily explained.
Those of aaBB or AAbb, if they no longer interact with others, will be able to produce only mid-brown colored offspring. (You may want to work this out with your own punnett square.)

      If these lines were to interbreed again with other such lines, the process would be reversed. In a short time, their descendants would show a whole range of "colors," often in the same family. The photo above shows what were called Britain's "most amazing twins." One is obviously light, the other obviously darker-skinned.

      Of course, this is not amazing at all when you do the exercise on paper, based on what we have discussed. (A clue if you want to do it yourself: mother cannot be AABB.) Also, the twins are obviously not identical twins, which are derived from the same egg.23

      If all the humans on Earth were to intermarry freely, and then break into random groups that kept to themselves, a whole new set of combinations could emerge. It may be possible to have almond eyes with black skin, blue eyes with black frizzy short hair, etc. We need to remember, of course, that the way in which genes express themselves is turning out to be much more complex than this simplified picture. Sometimes certain genes are linked together. However, the basic point is unaffected.

      Even today, close observation shows that within a particular people group you will often see a feature normally associated with another group. For instance, you will occasionally see a European with a broad flat nose, or a Chinese person with very pale skin, or Caucasian eyes. As pointed out previously, most biologists now agree that among modern humans, "race" has little or no biological meaning. This also argues strongly against the idea that the people groups have been evolving separately for long periods.

What really happened?


      We can now reconstruct the true history of the "people groups," using:
  • The information given by the Creator Himself in the book of Genesis.
  • The background information given above.
  • Some consideration of the effect of the environment.
      The first created man, Adam, from whom all other humans are descended, was created with the best possible combination of genes-for skin "color" for example. A long time after Creation, a world-wide flood destroyed all humans except a man called Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives. This flood greatly changed the environment. Afterwards, God commanded the survivors to multiply and cover the Earth (Gen. 9:1). A few hundred years later, men chose to disobey God and to remain united in building a great city, with the Tower of Babel as the focal point of rebellious worship.

      From Genesis 11, we understand that up to this time there was only one language. God judged the people's disobedience by imposing different languages on man, so that they could not work together against God, and so that they were forced to scatter over the Earth as God intended.

      So all the "people groups" - "black" Africans, Indo-Europeans, Mongols, and others - have come into existence since that time.

      Noah and his family were probably mid-brown, with genes for both dark and light skin, because a medium skin "color" would seem to be the most generally suitable (dark enough to protect against skin cancer, yet light enough to allow vitamin D production). As all the factors for skin "color" were present in Adam and Eve, they would most likely have been mid-brown as well. In fact, most of the world's population today is still mid-brown.

      After the Flood, for the few centuries until Babel, there was only one language and one culture group. Thus, there were no barriers to marriage within this group. This would tend to keep the skin "color" of the population away from the extremes. Very dark and very light skin would appear, of course, but people tending in either direction would be free to marry someone less dark or less light than themselves, ensuring that the average "color" stayed roughly the same.

      The same would be true of other characteristics, not just skin "color." Under these sorts of circumstances, distinct differences in appearance will never emerge. This is true for animals as well as human populations, as every biologist knows. To obtain such separate lines, you would need to break a large breeding group into smaller groups and keep them separate, that is, not interbreeding any more.

The effects of Babel


      This is exactly what happened at Babel. Once separate languages were imposed, there were instantaneous barriers. Not only would people tend not to marry someone they couldn't understand, but entire groups which spoke the same language would have difficulty relating to and trusting those which did not. They would tend to move away or be forced away from each other, into different environments. This, of course, is what God intended.

      It is unlikely that each small group would carry the same broad range of skin "colors" as the original, larger group. So one group might have more dark genes, on average, while another might have more light genes. The same thing would happen to other characteristics: nose shape, eye shape, etc. And since they would interbreed only within their own language group, this tendency would no longer be averaged out as before.

      As these groups migrated away from Babel, they encountered new and different climate zones. This would also have affected the balance of inherited factors in the population, although the effects of the environment are nowhere near as important as the genetic mix with which each group began. As an example, let us look at people who moved to cold areas with little sunlight. In those areas, the dark-skinned members of any group would not be able to produce enough vitamin D, and thus would be less healthy and have fewer children.

      So, in time, the light-skinned members would predominate. If several different groups went to such an area, and if one group happened to be carrying few genes for lightness, this particular group could in time die out. This natural selection acts on the characteristics already present, and does not evolve new ones.

      It is interesting to note that in the Neanderthals of Europe, an extinct variety of man now recognized as fully human,24 many showed evidence of vitamin D deficiency in their bones. In fact, it was this, plus a large dose of evolutionary prejudice, which helped cause them to be classified as "ape-men" for a long time. It is thus quite plausible to suggest that they were a dark-skinned people group who were unfit for the environment into which they moved because of the skin-color genes they began with. Notice that this natural selection, as it is called, does not produce skin "colors," but only acts on the created "colors" that are already there.

      Conversely, fair-skinned people in very sunny regions could easily be affected by skin cancer, in which case dark-skinned people would more readily survive.

      So we see that the pressure of the environment can (a) affect the balance of genes within a group, and (b) even eliminate entire groups. This is why we see, to a large extent, a fit of characters to their environment (e.g., Nordic people with pale skin, equatorial people with dark skin, etc.).

      But this is not always so. An Inuit (Eskimo) has brown skin, yet lives where there is not much sun. Presumably they have a genetic makeup such as AAbb which would not be able to produce lighter skin. On the other hand, native South Americans living on the equator do not have black skin. These examples show that natural selection does not create new information - if the genetic makeup of a group of people does not allow variation in "color" toward the desirable, natural selection cannot create such variation.

      African pygmies live in a hot area, but rarely experience strong sunshine in their dense jungle environment, yet they have dark skin. Pygmies may be a good example of another factor that has affected the racial history of man: discrimination. If a variation from the normal occurs (e.g., a very light person among a dark people), then historically it has been usual for that person to be regarded as abnormal and unacceptable. Thus, such a person would find it hard to get a marriage partner. People could also recognize the poor fitness of certain characteristics in their environment and so these become incorporated into the selection criteria for marriage partners. This would further tend to eliminate light genes from a dark people near the equator, and dark genes from light people at high latitudes. In this way, groups have tended to "purify" themselves.

      Also, in some instances, inbreeding in a small group can highlight any commonly occurring unusual features that would previously have been swamped by continual intermarriage. There is a tribe in Africa whose members all have grossly deformed feet as a result of this inbreeding.

      To return to pygmies, if people possessing genes for short stature were discriminated against, and a small group of them sought refuge in the deepest forest, their marrying only each other would ensure a pygmy "race" from then on. The fact that pygmy tribes have never been observed to have their own languages, but instead speak dialects of neighboring non-pygmy languages, is good evidence in support of this.

The effects of choice


      People groups that were already equipped with certain characteristics may have made deliberate (or semi-deliberate) choices concerning the environments to which they migrated. For instance, people with genes for a thicker, more insulating layer of fat under their skin would tend to leave areas that were uncomfortably hot.

Other evidence


      The evidence for the Bible's account of human origins is more than just biological and genetic. Since all peoples descended from Noah's family after the Flood a relatively short time ago, we would be surprised if, in the stories and legends of many of the groups, there was not some memory, albeit distorted by time and retelling, of such a catastrophic event. In fact, an overwhelming number of cultures do have such an account of a world-destroying Flood. Often these have startling parallels to the true, original account (eight people saved in a boat, a rainbow, the sending of the birds, and more).

      In summary, the dispersion at Babel, breaking a large interbreeding group into small, inbreeding groups, ensured that the resultant groups would have different mixes of genes for various physical features. By itself, this would ensure, in a short time, that there would be certain fixed differences in some of these groups, commonly called "races." In addition, the selection pressure of the environment would modify the existing combinations of genes, causing a tendency for characteristics to suit their environment.

      There has been no simple-to-complex evolution of any genes, for the genes were present already. The dominant features of the various people groups result from different combinations of previously existing created genes, plus some minor changes in the direction of degeneration, resulting from mutations (accidental changes which can be inherited). The originally created (genetic) information has been either reshuffled or has degenerated, not been added to.

      Consequences of false beliefs about the origin of "races":
  • Rejection of the gospel. The accuracy of the historical details of Genesis is crucial to the trustworthiness of the Bible and to the whole gospel message.25 So the popular belief that people groups evolved their different features, and could not all have come from Noah's family (contrary to the Bible), has eroded belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Racism. One of the biggest justifications for racial discrimination in modern times is the belief that, because people groups have allegedly evolved separately, they are at different stages of evolution, and some people groups are more backward. Thus, the other person may not be as fully human as you. This sort of thinking inspired Hitler in his quest to eliminate Jews and Gypsies and to establish the "master race." Sadly, some Christians have been infected with racist thinking through the effects on our culture of evolutionary indoctrination, that people of a different "color" are inferior because they are supposedly closer to the animals.26
  • Influence on missionary outreach. Historically, the spread of evolutionary belief was associated with a slackening of fervor by Christians to reach the lost in far-away countries. The idea of savage, half-evolved inferior peoples somehow does not give rise to the same missionary urgency as the notion that our "cousins," closely linked to us in time and heredity, have yet to hear the gospel. Even many of the finest of today's missionary organizations have been influenced, often unconsciously, by this deeply ingrained belief in the evolutionary view of how other peoples and their religions came about.


'Inter-racial' marriage'?


      Now that we understand that the so-called "races" in reality constitute just one race with different people groups, what about the issue of so-called "inter-racial marriage?"

      If a Chinese person were to marry a Polynesian, or an African with dark skin were to marry a Japanese, or a person from India were to marry a person from America with light skin, would these marriages be in accord with Biblical principles?

      There are a significant number of Christians (particularly in America) who would claim that such "inter-racial" marriages violate God's principles in the Bible, and should not be allowed.

      But does the Word of God really condemn such mixes as those above? Is there ultimately any such thing as "inter-racial marriage?"

      True science in the present fits with the Biblical view that all people are rather closely related - there is only one "race" biologically. Therefore, there is in essence no such thing as "inter-racial marriage" So we are left with this - is there anything in the Bible that speaks clearly against men and women from different people groups marrying?

Origin of people groups


      In Genesis 11, we read of the rebellion at the tower of Babel that resulted in people being scattered over the Earth. Because of this dispersion, and the resulting splitting of the gene pool, different cultures formed, with certain features becoming predominant within each group. Some of these (skin "color," eye shape, and so on) became general characteristics of each particular people group.27

      Note that the context of Genesis 11 makes it clear that the reason for God's scattering the people over the Earth was that they had united in rebellion against God. Some Christians point to this event in an attempt to provide a basis for their arguments against so-called "inter-racial" marriage. They believe that it is implied here that to keep the nations apart, God is declaring that people from different people groups can't marry. However, there is no such indication in this passage that what is called "inter-racial marriage" is condemned. Besides, there has been so much mixing of people groups over the years that it would be impossible for every human being today to trace their lineage to know for certain which group(s) they are descended from.

      We need to understand that the sovereign Creator God is in charge of the nations of this world. Paul makes this very clear in Acts 17:26. Some people erroneously claim this verse to mean that people from different nations shouldn't marry. But this passage has nothing to do with marriage. As John Gill makes clear in his classic commentary, the context is that God is in charge of all things - where, how, and for how long any person, tribe or nation will live, prosper, and perish.28

      In all of this, God is working to redeem for Himself a people who are one in Christ. The Bible makes it clear in Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, and Romans 10:12-13 that in regard to salvation, there is no distinction between male or female or Jew or Greek or bond or free. In Christ, any separation between people is broken down. As Christians, we are one in Christ and thus have a common purpose - to live for Him who made us. This oneness in Christ is vital to understanding marriage.

Purpose of marriage


      Malachi 2:15 declares that an important purpose of marriage is to produce godly offspring - progeny that are trained in the ways of the Lord. Jesus in Matthew 19 and Paul in Ephesians 5 make it clear that when a man and woman marry, they become one flesh (because they were one flesh historically - Eve was made from Adam). Also, the man and woman must be one spiritually so they can fulfill the command to produce godly offspring. This is why Paul states in 2 Corinthians 6:14, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?"

      According to the Bible then, which of these impending marriages to the right does God counsel against entering into?

      The answer is obvious -the third one. According to the Bible, the priority in marriage is that a Christian should marry only a Christian.

      Sadly, there are some Christian homes where the parents are more concerned about their children not marrying someone from another "race" than whether or not they are marrying a Christian. When Christians marry non-Christians, it negates the spiritual (not the physical) oneness in marriage, resulting in negative consequences for the couple and their children.29

Rahab and Ruth


      The examples of Rahab and Ruth help us understand how God views the issue of marriage between those who are from different people groups but trust in the true God.

      Rahab was a Canaanite. She came from an ungodly culture - descendants of Canaan, the son of Ham. Remember that Canaan was cursed because of his obvious rebellious nature. Unfortunately, many Christians state that Ham was cursed - but this is not true.30 Some have even said that this non-existent curse of Ham resulted in the black "races." This is absurd and is the type of false teaching that has reinforced and justified prejudices against people with dark skin.

      In the genealogy in Matthew 1, it is traditionally understood that the same Rahab is listed here as being in the line leading to Christ. Thus Rahab, a descendant of Ham, must have married an Israelite (descended from Shem). Since this was clearly a union approved by God, it underlines the fact that the particular "people group" she came from was irrelevant - what mattered was that she trusted in the true God of the Israelites.31

      The same can be said of Ruth, who, as a Moabitess, also married an Israelite, and is also listed in the genealogy in Matthew 1 that leads to Christ. Prior to her marriage, she had expressed faith in the true God (Ruth 1:16).

      When Rahab and Ruth became children of God, there was no longer any barrier to Israelites marrying them, even though they were from different "people groups."

Real Biblical 'inter-racial' marriage


      If one wants to use the term "interracial," then the real "inter-racial" marriage that God says we should not enter into is when a child of the Last Adam (one who is a new creation in Christ - a Christian) marries one who is an unconverted child of the First Adam (one who is dead in trespasses and sin - a non-Christian).32

      Some Christian leaders claim that allowing so-called "inter-racial marriage" would bring the nations together again that were split up at the Tower of Babel, thus helping to bring in a one-world government. If this were true, then Christians should not be learning other languages, which would negate the Great Commission to preach to all tribes and nations (Matthew 28). Rules regarding whom one could marry were not a part of the event of the Tower of Babel.

Cross-cultural problems


      Because many people groups have been separated since the Tower of Babel, they have developed many cultural differences. If two people from very different cultures marry, they can have a number of communication problems, even if both are Christians. Expectations regarding relationships with members of the extended family, for example, can also differ. Even people from different English-speaking countries can have communication problems because words may have different meanings. Counselors should go through this in detail, anticipating the problems and giving specific examples. Some marriages have failed because of such cultural differences. However, such problems have nothing to do with genetics or "race."

      In summary then:
  1. There is no Biblical justification for claiming that people from different so-called "races" (best described as "people groups") should not marry.
  2. The Biblical basis for marriage makes it clear that a Christian should only marry a Christian.
      When Christians legalistically impose non-Biblical ideas such as "no inter-racial marriage" onto their culture, they are helping to perpetuate prejudices that have often arisen from evolutionary influences. If we are really honest, in countries like America the main reason for Christians being against "inter-racial marriage" is, in most instances, really because of skin "color." (As we have shown, every human being has the same skin color ñ it just depends on how much of the color one has.)



      The Christian church could greatly relieve the tensions over racism if only the leaders would teach that all people are descended from one man and woman and all people are equal before God. Furthermore, all are sinners in need of salvation; all need to build their thinking on God's Word and judge all their cultural aspects accordingly; all need to be one in Christ and put an end to their rebellion against their Creator. 


(Taken from: http://www.worldviewtraining.com/book/chapters/wdtrcf.html)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Nothing Safe about Secret Sin

Jesus' exposition of the law is a devastating blow against the lie that image isSecret Sins everything.
Our Lord taught repeatedly that sin bottled up on the inside, concealed from everyone else's view, carries the very same guilt as sin that manifests itself in the worst forms of ungodly behavior. Those who hate others are as guilty as those who act out their hatred; and those who indulge in private lusts are as culpable as wanton adulterers (Matt. 5:21-30).
So Christians are not to think of secret sins as somehow less serious and more respectable than the sins everyone sees. Here are three reasons secret sin is especially abhorrent:

1. Because God sees the heart.
Scripture tells us "God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). No sin--not even a whispered curse or a fleeting evil thought--is hidden from the view of God. In fact, if we realized that God himself is the only audience for such secret sins, we might be less inclined to write them off so lightly.
The Bible declares that God will one day judge the secrets of every heart (Rom. 2:16). He "will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil" (Eccl. 12:14).
Not only that, secret sins will not remain secret. "The Lord [will] bring to light the things hidden in the darkness" (1 Cor. 4:5). Jesus said, "There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops" (Luke 12:2-3). Those who think they can evade shame by sinning in secret will discover one day that open disclosure of their secrets before the very throne of God is the worst shame of all.
It is folly to think we can mitigate our sin by keeping it secret. It is double folly to tell ourselves that we are better than others because we sin in private rather than in public. And it is the very height of folly to convince ourselves that we can get away with sin by covering it up. "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper" (Prov. 28:13).
All sin is an assault against our holy God, whether it is done in public or in secret. And God, who beholds even the innermost secrets of the heart, sees our sin clearly, no matter how well we think we have covered it.

2. Because sin in the mind is a fruit of the same moral defect that produces deeds of sin.
When Jesus said hatred carries the same kind of guilt as murder, and lust is the very essence of adultery, He was not suggesting that there is no difference in degree between sin that takes place in the mind and sin that is acted out. Scripture does not teach that all sins are of equal enormity.
That some sins are worse than others is both patently obvious and thoroughly biblical. Scripture plainly teaches this, for example, when it tells us the sin of Judas was greater than the sin of Pilate (John 19:11).
But in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus was pointing out that anger arises from the same moral defect as murder; and the one who lusts suffers from the same character flaw as the adulterer. Furthermore, those who engage in thought-sins are guilty of violating the same moral precepts as those who commit acts of murder and adultery.
In other words, secret sins of the heart are morally tantamount to the worst kind of evil deeds--even if they are sins of a lesser degree. The lustful person has no right to feel morally superior to a wanton fornicator. The fact that she indulges in lust is proof she is capable of immoral acts as well. The fact that he hates his brother shows that he has murder lurking in his heart.
Christ was teaching us to view our own secret sins with the same moral revulsion we feel for wanton acts of public sin.

3. Because hidden sin involves the compounding sin of hypocrisy.
Those who sin secretly actually intensify their guilt, because they add the sin of hypocrisy to their offense. Hypocrisy is a grave sin in its own right. It also produces an especially debilitating kind of guilt, because by definition hypocrisy entails the concealing of sin. And the only remedy for any kind of sin involves uncovering our guilt through sincere confession.
Hypocrisy therefore permeates the soul with a predisposition against genuine repentance. That is why Jesus referred to hypocrisy as "the leaven of the Pharisees" (Luke 12:1).
Hypocrisy also works directly against the conscience. There's no way to be hypocritical without searing the conscience. So hypocrisy inevitably makes way for the most vile, soul-coloring, character-damaging secret sins. Thus hypocrisy compounds itself, just like leaven.
Beware that sort of leaven.
No matter who suggests to you that appearances are everything, don't buy that lie.
As a matter of fact, your secret life is the real litmus test of your character: "As he thinks within himself, so he is" (Prov. 23:7). Do you want to know who you really are? Take a hard look at your private life--especially your innermost thoughts. Gaze into the mirror of God's Word, and allow it to disclose and correct the real thoughts and motives of your heart.

By John MacArthur (http://www.gty.org/resources/Articles/A214_Nothing-Safe-about-Secret-Sin#.Tnk2mOwR-uI)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wish You Were Here (An Examination and Critique of Claimed Visits to Heaven and Hell)

By Justin Peters


Heaven.  The Bible describes Heaven as a place of surpassing beauty where there is no pain, no sorrow, no sickness, no disease, no death.  It is where the triune God resides in all of His glory.   For those of us who are saved, the redeemed of God through Christ, it is our eternal home.  Though none of us look forward to the process of dying, as Christians we enthusiastically answer the question asked by Job, "If a man dies, will he live again?"[i] with a resounding "yes."   We look forward to being completely and eternally free of fallen bodies living in a fallen world.  But for some people, it seems that Heaven (and occasionally Hell) can't wait.

Though Near Death Experiences (NDEs)[ii]  have been reported for hundreds and even thousands of years, the last several decades have seen an explosion of people come forward claiming that they have seen the other side, both Heaven and Hell.  Many of these people are not Christian at all.[iii]  For the purposes of this article, however, we will focus on some of the more prominent ones claiming to be believers in Christ.  I will begin this article by providing an overview of some of the more prominent recent examples and will then offer an evaluation of each.  While space does not permit an exhaustive review of each account, some of the more important and theologically pertinent points will examined.

Heaven is for Real – Colton Burpo

Overview

When Colton Burpo, now aged 12, was just four years old he suffered from an undiagnosed ruptured appendix and almost died while undergoing surgery.  During this NDE[iv], Colton claims that he left his body and went to Heaven.  According to his father, Todd Burpo, pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, NE, over the next several months and years Colton slowly began to give details of people already deceased and events of which he could not possibly have known. Heaven is for Real , written by Mr. Burpo, is the account of his son's incredible journey.

During his NDE, Colton left his body and saw doctors working on him from above.  He also saw the location of his parents and what they were doing while he underwent surgery.  Colton says he then went to Heaven.  Some of his notable experiences included "sitting beside the Holy Spirit" when his paternal great-grandfather, "Pop," walked up to him.  Colton met his sister who died in a miscarriage of whom Colton had never been told.  While in heaven, Colton heard the songs "Jesus Loves Me" and "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho,"[v] saw John the Baptist, many different animals, thousands of colors not known on earth, gates of gold and pearls, describes all of the people (himself included) as having wings and as not showing old age.  The boy says that he sat in Jesus' lap and saw "markers" on His hands[vi] and feet, later to be interpreted by Todd to be the nail prints.  Asked in 2010 by Gretchen Carlson of Fox News to describe Jesus, Colton reports that He has a "rough but kind face, sea-blue eyes, and a smile that lit up the Heavens"[vii] and describes God as a very big Person Who "can actually fit the entire world into His hands."[viii]  Jesus also instructed the angels to sing to him for comfort and even helped him with his homework.[ix]  Colton describes not only the physical aspects of people and things in Heaven but was also apparently granted a sneak peek into eschatological events such as Armageddon.[x]                                  

Evaluation

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is that regardless of our position on Colton Burpo's claimed heavenly visitation, we unanimously rejoice that God in His sovereignty spared the life of this young boy.  Colton was obviously very sick and was apparently not far from death so we all are grateful that God graciously spared his life.  It is upon evaluating Colton's claims, however, in which this unanimity dissolves.

At the time of this writing in late August, 2011, Heaven is for Real has been on the New York Times Bestsellers list for paperback non-fiction for 40 weeks where it currently holds the #1 spot.[xi]  From what I hear, there is even talk of a movie based on the book. More will be said on the tremendous success of books in the 'I've been to Heaven' genre later but for now we focus on the biblical evaluation.  Many of the details Colton provides us of the other side are not necessarily unbiblical per se, yet certainly are extra-biblical.  For example, his description of the thousands of colors not known here on earth, that all in Heaven have a light over their heads and wings, and that there were all kinds of animals everywhere cannot be said to contradict Scripture necessarily, but neither does Scripture validate such descriptions.  While many would not see a problem with this, I believe that there is one, or two.  Firstly, if young Colton did indeed go to Heaven and see these things, then we can take them to the proverbial bank – the myriads of colors, lights over heads, wings, animals, etc., are all there.  This comes dangerously close to violating the warning provided in Revelation 22:18 to not add to "the words of the prophecy of this book."  Even if one holds that "this book" refers to the book of Revelation alone, given that the rest of Scripture is just as authoritative as is Revelation, the difficulty is by no means alleviated.  If Colton went to Heaven, then his extra-biblical revelations should indeed be authoritative and words have, de facto, been added to the Bible.  This is not only a problem with Colton's alleged trip to Heaven but indeed with all who make such claims.  Secondly, the Apostle Paul gives clear testimony that all of Scripture is inspired and is wholly sufficient to fully equip us as believers (2 Tim. 3:16).  In other words, there simply is no need for such revelations; they are wholly non-profitable. The question then arises, if God wanted for us to know these details of Heaven via Colton Burpo, why did He not just include them for us in His sufficient Word?

Other details Colton relates seem, well, odd.  While the Bible does not necessarily negate the possibility of people having wings in Heaven outright, it certainly gives no indication that such is the case.  Two orders of angels are described in the Bible as having wings, Cherubim (Ex. 25:20; Ez. 10) and Seraphim (Isaiah 6), but people are never described as such.  As cited above, Colton describes God as a very big Person, but asked by Pat Boone in a TBN appearance, Colton describes God as a "huge angel with massive wings (emphasis mine)."[xii] This is decidedly unbiblical.  Not only does the Bible give no description of God as having wings, but He most certainly is not an angel; angels are creations of God. God is Spirit who must be worshipped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  Odd, too, is Colton's description of Jesus helping him with his homework in Heaven.   We will never know this side of the veil the full activity of Heaven but clearly it will center around the unhindered, eternal, and full worship of God (Rev. 22:3).  That the Alpha and Omega would be helping Colton with something as trivial (given where Colton supposedly was) as homework is, in my opinion, a stretch too far.  In doing research for this article, I have watched many, many interviews of Todd and Colton Burpo.  In so doing, I could not help but be struck by how so many of Colton's answers seemed very pat and rote.  For example, his description of Jesus as having a "rough but kind face, sea-blue eyes and a smile that lit up the Heavens" he has repeated on multiple interviews from TBN to FoxNews to CNN and others verbatim. His answers seem, well, canned.  His description of God as being able to "fit the entire world into His hands" also seems a bit suspect.  Haven't we heard this song before?  Theologically, Todd Burpo made a statement which raised a red flag.  On page 149 he wrote, "The Scripture says that as Jesus gave up His spirit (on the cross)…God the Father turned his back.  I am convinced that he did that because if he had kept on watching, he couldn't have gone through with it." Scripture does not actually teach this at all[xiii] but even more to the point is that Todd is drawing a theological conclusion that at best is un-provable and at worst is patently unbiblical given that Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus' sacrifice was planned from eternity past (Rev. 13:8).  That God might not have "gone through with it" not so subtly implies that His plan of redemption, the absolute focal point of Scripture, was quite a precarious one indeed.  Theologically troubling, too, is that while in Heaven Colton says that he was upset because he "did not know what was happening" and so "He (God) used people that, people or things that I liked to calm me down.  From there on I felt better."[xiv]  That anyone, even if he is a small child, would feel any kind of fear, confusion, or apprehension in the presence of the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God in Heaven is doubtful at best.



90 Minutes in Heaven – Don Piper

Overview

On January 18, 1989, Don Piper says he died and went to Heaven.  The Baptist preacher was returning home to Alvin, TX from a BGCT[xv] conference held on the north shore of Lake Livingston via I-45.  On his journey home, Don's Ford Escort collided with an eighteen-wheeler.  He was pronounced dead by EMT's on the scene.  Fellow pastor and conference attendee Dick Onerecker came upon the accident roughly one hour later and asked personnel on scene if there was anyone there for whom he could pray.  He was informed that everyone was ok except for the man in the Escort who was dead.  Despite this information and seemingly contrary to all logic, Onerecker reports that God spoke to him and said, "You need to pray for the man in the red car."[xvi]  Onerecker reached his hand through the tangled wreckage, touched the body of Don Piper, and began to pray and sing hymns.  An hour and a half after the devastating collision, to his and everyone else's shock and disbelief, the dead man began to sing along with him.   It was during this 90 minutes, that Don Piper says he went to Heaven.

Piper reports that immediately upon impact he found himself in Heaven and was greeted by a large crowd of people.  The first person he recognized was his grandfather Joe Kulbeth who still had his "shock of white hair" and "big banana nose."[xvii]  He also met his great-grandmother, Hattie Mann, whose false teeth and slumped back on earth now sparkled and was straight, respectively, in Heaven.  Piper was also greeted by friends, former teachers, relatives, all of whom, he says, "spiritually impacted me in some way and helped make me a better disciple."[xviii]  Piper describes Heaven as a place of brilliant luminescence yet not such that it was painful to the eyes.  There was no darkness at all, no shadows.  Everything was of a beauty the magnitude of which simply cannot be described by words.  There was music as well, but not, apparently, the kind described by Colton Burpo.  Rather, Piper heard music unlike anything he had ever heard on earth.  It was music that he not only heard, but experienced.  The music permeated his very body and seemed to be thousands of songs all at once and yet they blended in a perfect, glorious symphony.  The music included hymns he knew from earth as well as hundreds of songs he had never before heard.  Piper is careful to point out that, though he came right up to Heaven, he never actually went inside the walls.  He says that he could not see the ends of the massive walls in either direction, nor could he see their top.  The gates were not made of pearls, says Piper, but rather were "pearlescent."[xix]  Looking through the massive gate Piper describes Heaven as having streets constructed of literal gold and everything was bathed in brilliant, powerful colors.  He said he felt "deliriously happy" and then, suddenly, he left Heaven and was joined back to his body in the wreckage of his Ford Escort.

Evaluation

The title of Piper's book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, is a bit misleading because only 7% or so of his book is actually devoted to describing his visit to Heaven.  The vast majority of it concerns his excruciating recovery from the collision on I-45.  Piper's recovery process was a very lengthy, and an almost incomprehensibly painful journey; a journey which, to an extent, continues to this day.  One cannot help but to feel for the guy.  As with little Colton Burpo, we all rejoice that God spared Don Piper's life.  That having been said, there are several things with Piper's story which should give the biblically informed reader pause.

One thing that struck me was Piper's description of the music.  He said that at least part of the heavenly anthem was comprised of songs that he heard while on earth.  Carried out to its logical conclusion, this is a troubling statement.  Given that Heaven is perfect, the worship in Heaven will also be perfect, pure, wholly pleasing and glorifying to God.  It will be inspired – but by inspired I do not mean in an earthly inspirational sense - I mean inspired by God Himself.  Perfection comes only from God because only He is perfect.  The only worship, then, of the perfect God emanating from His perfect angels and His perfected children within His perfect kingdom must be in and of itself just that - perfect.  Though the hymns with which we are all familiar are beautiful and many contain sound doctrine, they are not perfect, nor are they inspired in the fullest sense of the term.  I am reminded of the words of Puritan preacher John Bunyan, "The best prayer I ever prayed had enough sin to damn the whole word."[xx]  In a similar vein, no matter how beautiful we deem the hymns and songs with which we are familiar on earth, they are certainly not perfect and, therefore, are not worthy of inclusion in the heavenly choir.  Also of note is that Piper says the hymns he did not hear were ones such as "The Old Rugged Cross" or "The Nail-Scarred Hand."  Writes Piper, "None of the hymns that filled the air were about Jesus' sacrifice or death."[xxi] Yet consider the words of the Apostle John: "Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders… saying with a loud voice, 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.'"[xxii]  Though we can confidently affirm that these specific songs mentioned by Piper will not be in Heaven for the reason just stated, it is interesting (and more than a little ironic) that what we do know from the Bible of the worship in Heaven is that it, at least in part, will deal with exactly what he claims it does not – the sacrifice and death of Jesus.

Throughout Piper's book and in his interviews there seems to be a lack of theological precision.  In a TBN appearance on May 27, 2011, Piper says that one of the people who met him at the gates of Heaven was Mrs. Norris, a lady who took him to church as a child.  Said Piper, "Why do you suppose she was there?  I'll tell you why she was there, she helped me get there. She deserved to be there."[xxiii] Commendable though Mrs. Norris' actions were, she certainly does not deserve to be in Heaven.  That is the entire point of the Gospel:  None of us deserves to be there.  Another aspect that troubles me about Piper's description of Heaven is one which troubles me about every description of Heaven I have ever read from someone outside of Scripture claiming to have been there: the descriptions of Heaven are so…earthy.  Piper writes, "Heaven was many things, but without a doubt, it was the greatest family reunion of all"[xxiv] and gives physical descriptions of how friends and family members looked with their now perfect bodies (more on this later).  Says Piper, "If you want to look good, Heaven is where you want to be."[xxv]  He spoke of feeling great love but the love he felt seemed to come from the crowd which greeted him and followed him around, not God.  Unfortunately it seems that many, if not most, of us professing Christians when discussing Heaven seem to speak in terms of it as being a big "family reunion" at which we will see our friends and loved ones who "have gone on before." While it is true that Heaven will indeed have streets of gold (Rev. 21:21) and that we will indeed be reunited with our loved ones who died in Christ before us, and sickness and disease will not be known there, such things are secondary – at best.  The true joy and glory of Heaven is God Himself.  He is what makes Heaven Heaven.  Speaking of Whom, Piper writes in his book, "I did not see God.  Although I knew God was there, I never saw any kind of image or luminous glow to indicate his divine presence."[xxvi]  Piper clearly writes that he did not see God.  Or did he?

This brings me to one of the more troubling aspects of Don Piper's alleged visit to Heaven.  90 Minutes in Heaven in which Piper states in no uncertain terms that he did not see God because, in his opinion, had he done so he "would never have wanted to return,"[xxvii] was published in 2004.  In the years since, the overwhelming popularity of the book has propelled Piper into his current ministry of travelling around the country speaking in churches and various conferences, hosting cruises, doing numerous radio interviews and appearing on many television programs to tell his story.  It seems that over the years his story has changed in at least one significant way: he now claims he did see God.  On March 29 of this year my wife and I went to see Don Piper speak at First Baptist Church of Bristow, OK.  Having read his book, I was quite surprised to hear him say that, in fact, he did see God 'way down the golden road up on a hill on His throne.'[xxviii] This is a huge discrepancy.  Wanting to make sure I did not misunderstand, I talked to him after the service and asked him why he said in his book that he did not see God.

Piper: "Really in the distance, yes, in the distance I saw Him. Me: "But in 90 Minutes in Heaven you said, 'I did not see God."  Piper: "I'm telling you now that I did." Me: "Ok, so why did you say in the book you didn't?" Piper,"I didn't say I didn't see Him.  I, I, I, I was looking from a distance through the gate.  You could see the golden street, you could see the buildings, there are mansions, and you could see a hill with a river flowing down the side of it. …It was just so personal to me and so incredibly difficult to describe (that) I just didn't include that.  And that's one of the things I did not include.  Let me tell you something, I didn't write the book by myself.  I had a co-writer who writes.  His name is Cec[xxix] Murphy. So, there are probably some things in there that he interpreted differently than I did and that may be one of them."[xxx]  

That one could leave out of a book entitled "90 Minutes in Heaven" such a magnanimous privilege as seeing the Alpha and Omega on His throne is incomprehensible.  It is not merely a difference in "interpretation."  This is a big deal.  In fact, it's difficult to imagine anything much bigger than seeing God and equally difficult to imagine leaving such an experience out.  This is not just a mere oversight.



23 Minutes in Hell – Bill Weise 

Overview

On November 23, 1998 at 3:00 am, Bill Weise says that he suddenly found himself hurtling through the air, falling to the ground, and then landed completely naked in a prison cell of rough-hewn stone and thick metal bars.[xxxi]  Weise says that the first thing he noticed was the tremendous heat – heat so intense that he could not believe that he was alive.  He saw two creatures in the cell with him.  They were ten to thirteen feet tall, reptilian in appearance but with a human form, scaly, foul-smelling, foot-long claws, massively powerful with the strength of a thousand men, and were seething with evil and hatred.  They spoke to one another in "terrible, blasphemous language…expressing extreme hatred for God."[xxxii]  The demons were then joined by two more demons coming into the cell and the four turned their collective hatred and hostility toward Weise and began to torment him.  They picked Weise up, threw him against the wall, plunged their claws into his chest, and ripped his flesh.  Though his flesh was mangled, no fluids came forth.  The pain, the stench, the agonizing thirst and the absolute hopelessness was beyond anything we can imagine here on earth.  According to Weise the demons seemed to derive sadistic joy from the pain and horror they were inflicting upon their helpless victim.  He pleaded for mercy but none was given.  Says Weise "Death penetrated me, but eluded me."[xxxiii] 

Weise managed to crawl outside of his cell through an open door where he "heard the screams of an untold multitude of people crying in torment."  He saw "a gigantic raging inferno approximately one mile in diameter" and "many people reaching out of the pit of fire, desperately trying to claw their way out.  But there was no escape."[xxxiv]  The pit was rimmed with various demons and any attempt by the condemned to escape was futile; "Human strength was no match for the demons."[xxxv]  Weise later found himself in a cave the walls of which were "covered with thousands of hideous creatures.  These demonic creatures were all sizes and shapes. …There were also gigantic rats and huge spiders at least three feet wide and two or three feet high.  I also saw snakes and worms, ranging from small to enormously large.  I was petrified and could not believe my eyes."[xxxvi]  Finally, after 23 minutes of unspeakable horror, Weise says he began to ascend when a burst of brilliant light invaded the tunnel and though he could not see His face, he knew Who it was.  "Jesus," said Weise.  Jesus replied, "I AM."  The horror was over.



Evaluation

The description Weise gives of Hell is exceedingly graphic and disturbing.  Many of his descriptions of this place such as the heat and thirst, the palpable darkness, the pain, the hopelessness, and lack of mercy do indeed have ample biblical support.  However, though others could be mentioned, there are at least two significant biblical problems with his story which must be examined.  One is that in Weise's Hell it seems that the torture and punishment is inflicted upon the lost not by God's wrath in and of itself but rather by the demons and fire.  Mary Baxter's A Divine Revelation of Hell also describes hell as being run by Satan and his angels.[xxxvii]  This description fails biblically on two counts.  One is that contrary to popular perception, Hell is not Satan's playground.  Hell is not to Satan as the briar patch is to Brer Rabbit; i.e., where he longs to go and will roam about freely.  Satan and the demonic hordes do not want to go to Hell any more than do we.  In Matthew 8:28-34 the demons begged Christ to send them into a herd of pigs rather than to what they knew would be their eventual eternal destiny – Hell.  Even a brief delay in their sure judgment was welcome.  Hell was the last place they wanted to go.  In Revelation 20:7-10 the Bible is clear that Satan will be "thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone" and "will be tormented day and night forever and ever."  Secondly, it has become commonplace in the evangelical world to describe Hell merely as a place of being eternally separated from God.  Says Weise, "The fact that I knew God was kept from my mind."[xxxviii]  On TBN he stated, "If you want nothing to do with God, there is a place prepared that has nothing to do with Him (Hell)."[xxxix]  It is rare today to hear a preacher expound upon the horrors of Hell.  Rather, in an effort to soften the tone so as to not offend the sensibilities of "seekers," Hell, if mentioned at all, is softened to simply being a place eternally devoid of God's presence.  To his credit, Weise does not soften the description of Hell – far from it.  One would be hard pressed to find a more vivid and disturbing picture of Hell than the one Weise provides.  However, he still falls into the same theological error, even if he does so from a completely different direction.  The worst thing about Hell is not the eternal absence of God – it is the eternal presence of God.  The Apostle Paul states in Romans 5:9 that "we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him (emphasis mine)."  God is omnipresent and Hell is His eternal presence in the mode of judgment.  Salvation is as much being saved from God as it is being saved to God.    

One of the more glaring theological problems with Weise's story is how could he as a professing believer have been taken by Christ to the very place from which Christ died to save him?  Weise was very clear to state in his book that this was no dream.  He writes, "I landed in what appeared to be a prison cell. …I was completely naked… .  This was not a dream – I was actually in this strange place."[xl]  We must categorically reject that Jesus took a believer to hell.  There is neither biblical support nor logical reason for such a thing to ever happen or even be possible to happen.  This is an affront not only to the Gospel message but also to the character of Christ Himself.  Since the publication of the book in 2006, blogs and reviews have discussed this theological difficulty and, apparently, Weise has taken notice because his story, like Piper's, has changed over the years.  May 27, 2011, on the same TBN program on which Piper appeared, Weise attempts to extricate himself from the theological dilemma: "This was not a near death experience, this was an out-of-body experience that comes under the classification of a vision in the Bible.  In 2 Corinthians 12:1-2, Paul when he was caught up into heaven in a vision and he said whether in the body or out of the body he didn't know.  The Lord just happened to show me that I left my body.  That's the only way a Christian can see hell – in a vision."[xli]  Weise seems to make a distinction without a great deal of difference.  Even if he now claims it was a vision, he maintains that it was very real, very physical.  He experienced real pain, real thirst, real hopelessness and, real abandonment.  As Christians, we can and should expect trials, tribulations, persecutions, pain and suffering in this life.  However, one thing that the Bible gives us complete assurance that we will never experience is abandonment.  Jesus promised us that He will never leave nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5) and as one of His own there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from His love (Rom. 8:35) – not for eternity, not even for 23 minutes.   

Summary

Thus far we have examined specific, current, and popular accounts of people claiming to have been to Heaven and to Hell.   With these specific accounts still in view, we will now look at some of the broader challenges, both logical and biblical, confronting anyone claiming to have made such journeys.

There is a logical problem with these accounts that is so glaring, it is hard to understand why more people do not take note of it; namely, these various accounts often contradict one another.  The three individuals examined in this article only scratch the surface of those claiming to have been to the other side.  Mary Baxter (who went to both Heaven and Hell), Betty Malz, Roberts Liardon, Jesse Duplantis, Kenneth Hagin, Richard Eby, Todd Bentley, etc. also would have you believe they were given a sneak peek into the afterlife.  It takes only a cursory reading of these stories to realize that they all contradict one another – and often even contradict themselves! Colton Burpo reports that everyone in heaven, even God Himself, had wings.  Piper saw many people in heaven but they apparently did not have wings.  Some report that heaven is completely urban whereas Duplantis[xlii] says he saw homes out in the country.  Some saw God on His throne, others did not see Him at all, and some, like Don Piper, can't seem to remember whether they saw Him or not. Some heavenly tourists say that Jesus has brown hair, others say it is blond.  Some report Jesus as having a purple sash about his waist, others say it is blue.  Benny Hinn claims to see Jesus often and can even describe what He is wearing from day to day.  Some, like Colton Burpo, say Jesus' eyes are blue, others say they are brown.  The list of contradictions is almost endless.  The obvious point is that these accounts cannot all be true.  In all likelihood, none of them are.  Incidentally, in Rev. 1:14, the apostle John describes Jesus thusly: "His chest was girded with a golden sash.  His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire."  Let's go with that one.

There are a number of theological issues with all of these accounts.  Though with varying degrees of specificity, all who have been to the hereafter and have returned describe people as having physical bodies.  They report that the heavenly residents are perfect in every way showing no signs of sickness, disease, arthritis, handicaps, etc.  Their glorified bodies are beautiful in appearance and perfect in function.  There is only one problem with this: the redeemed in heaven do not yet have their glorified bodies.  Now, this statement will likely surprise many readers and, unfortunately, the theological nuances here are too involved to fully address, but suffice it to say that most conservative scholars agree that those presently in Heaven are not yet in possession of their permanent, glorified bodies.  In fact, Heaven itself is not yet in its perfected, eternal state as this will not transpire until the events of Revelation 21.  At present, Heaven is in its "intermediate" state, if you will, and those there are also in an intermediate state.  In Revelation 6:9-11 and 20:4, John saw the "souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God" and the "souls of those who had been beheaded" respectively. This indicates that they were not in possession of physical bodies but rather in a non-corporeal state.  The redeemed will be given glorified bodies at the rapture or Christ's return to earth (Parousia).[xliii]  In either case, the reports of people in the intermediate heaven as having their glorified bodies must be rejected.

Another theological problem with the "I've been to Heaven and/or Hell" genre is that it is an attack on the sufficiency of Scripture.  Even if an account does not directly contradict the Bible per se (and most do), it certainly does add to it.   In these accounts, for example, we learn that hell is 3,700 miles below the surface of the earth, that it is inhabited by ghastly creatures and giant spiders, the pit of fire is shaped like a giant human or maybe it's one mile in diameter (depending on whose account you read) and is ruled by demons – none of which can be found in the Bible.  Heaven apparently has suburbs, the flowers turn themselves to watch you as you pass by, the fruit is copper colored, the individual homes are furnished with ball and claw Queen Anne furniture, people have wings or they don't (again, depending on the particular account), souls of babies fly around God on His throne - none of which is biblically supported.  All of this information is unbiblical at worst and extra-biblical at best which leads us to the issue of new divine revelation knowledge.  Is God giving certain individuals new revelation and speaking to them apart and in addition to the Bible?  If any of these accounts are even partly true, then the inescapable conclusion is "yes."  Therefore, whatever God reveals to them and says to them (most of these individuals quote God directly) should carry with it the very same authority as any verse of Scripture because God cannot speak less authoritatively on one occasion than He does on another.  In other words, God cannot speak to us in the Bible and really, really mean it but when He speaks to individuals outside of the Bible whether in a dream, vision, audible voice, or trip to Heaven still mean it but somehow mean it less so than He did in the Bible.  It is illogical.  It is an untenable position.  If God is speaking, then God is speaking.  If God is indeed speaking to people outside of Scripture then whatever He says we should add to the Bible.  Carried to its logical conclusion, then, we now have an open canon of Scripture and with an open canon of Scripture, well, anything goes.  Consider how many false religions have begun by an individual claiming to have received new revelation from God.  Almost every false religion is begun by an individual saying, 'God has spoken to me. Let me tell you what He has to say.'  Two notable examples come to mind immediately: Mormonism and Islam.  Both Joseph Smith and Mohammed claimed that an entity appeared to them and gave them new divine revelation knowledge.  This entity claimed to speak for God.  Interestingly, both of these men initially believed the entity to be malevolent, but, over time, became convinced that it was indeed from God.  From these eerily similar encounters in which extra-biblical revelation was given, two huge false religions were born.  The canon of Scripture is complete and it is closed – for good reason.

All who claim to have been to Heaven or Hell report that God the Father or God the Son brought them there for the purpose of going back to the earth to let people know that these places are real.  For example, Weise quotes Jesus as saying, "Go and tell them about this place.  It is not my desire that any should go there."[xliv]  Duplantis quotes Jesus as saying, "Go tell My people I'm coming." Replied Duplantis, "They know that."  Jesus answered, "No they don't know that.  Go tell My people I'm coming!  I brought you here to tell them I'm coming!"[xlv]  Well, yes, His people do, in fact, "know that" because the Bible states that fact very clearly.  We do not need anyone to go to Heaven or Hell to tell us these places are real.  If such excursions are indeed necessary to give us this information (or at least impress upon us the urgency of it) then the inescapable conclusion is that the Bible is not sufficient in and of itself to do so.  Most of these individuals would at least give verbal ascent to the Bible as God's inerrant Word, but it clearly is not sufficient for if it were, these trips would not be necessary.  Recall Abraham's words to the rich man in the lake of fire upon the latter's request to send the deceased Lazarus back to earth to warn his five brothers to repent while they still had time: "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets (the Bible), they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead (Luke 16:19-31)."  There is an inherent power in the Word of God that no miracle, no sign, no alleged visit to Heaven or Hell can boast.  If people will not believe the Bible, then neither will they be persuaded by stories such as these. 

The New Testament records but three men who were allowed to see Heaven: Stephen just before he was stoned, John, and Paul.[xlvi] Interestingly all three of these men were very much alive when they were given glimpses into Heaven contrary to some, but not all, of our modern cases.  Stephen's glimpse was very brief and offers little detail other than seeing Jesus at the right hand of God.  John's account is by far the most detailed we have, was revealed to him personally by Christ Himself, and carries the authority of Scripture.  That leaves us with the Apostle Paul.  What do we know, though, of what he saw and heard in Heaven?  Absolutely nothing.  Paul writes, "I know a man in Christ who…was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak."[xlvii]  We have no idea what he saw, no idea what he heard.  Why?  Because what he saw was "inexpressible" and he was "not permitted" to speak it.  Ponder this for a moment.  Here we have the man who wrote roughly one-third of the New Testament and not only did he not give us any details of his rapturous visit to heaven, but he did not even want to mention the experience at all.  He did so only reluctantly because his apostleship was being questioned by some in Corinth; hence his reference to himself in the third person, "I know a man."  Paul was so humbled by his experience he would not even refer to himself in the first person.  Even with that level of humility, God still gave him a "thorn in the flesh" to humble him even further.  Contrast that level of humility with the claims being made today.  In contrast to Paul who gave no details and only reluctantly mentioned it at all, people today who claim to have been to Heaven write books about it and go on national and global speaking tours.  Some of these books sell millions and millions of copies.  Spin-off books and courses complete with instructional DVDs often follow.  Movies are even being made.[xlviii]  The contrast is stark, is it not?

The final theological issue is not so much what these accounts contain, but rather what they do not: the Gospel.  It is striking that so many of these people who claim to have been to Heaven and not only seen Jesus but spoken to Him as well do not mention the Gospel.  For example, in Heaven is for Real, the closes thing to the Gospel is that Colton quotes Jesus as saying, "I had to die on the cross so that people on earth could come to see my Dad."[xlix]  Granted, this is coming from a child, but the author of the book and father of the child, Todd Burpo, is a pastor.  If this experience helped make Heaven "real" for them, why is the Gospel never presented so the millions of readers can know how to get there?  The same is true for Don Piper, another pastor.  He spent 90 minutes in Heaven and yet, save for a few clichés like "accepting Jesus" and "turning to Christ," one will search his book in vain for the Gospel.  It's just not there.  There is no mention of the seriousness of sin or its eternal consequences.  There is no mention of the wrath of God.  There is no mention of the deity of Jesus, the meaning of His sacrificial and substitutionary death, no mention of His resurrection.  There is no mention of repentance of sin and placing faith in His finished work.  There is, in short, no Gospel.  To be fair, Bill Weise is different.  Weise does give an excellent, complete, detailed and non-compromising Gospel presentation.  I watched him do so on TBN and he did so very, very well.  There was no fault to be found. However, what of Burpo and especially Piper?  For reasons already presented I do not believe that such visits to Heaven and Hell are even possible, but for the sake of conversation, had something like that really happened to me and I had truly seen the majesties of Heaven and the glory of God, I would think that I would be absolutely consumed with telling people about the Gospel.  In my preaching I would not be waxing on about how "good you're gonna look in heaven" but rather pleading with people to repent and escape the coming judgment.  I hope to think that I would have the attitude of Peter and John who when in response to warnings not to teach in the name of Jesus replied, "we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard" or Paul's desire to preach nothing but "Christ crucified."[l]  It is difficult to understand how the Gospel would not be central to any believer's preaching or writing, but especially so for one claiming to have actually seen what for the rest of us is accepted by faith alone. 
Based on the authority of the complete and sufficient Word of God we are forced to reject all of these claims as valid.  This brings us to an obvious question which I have not yet addressed: are they lying?  This is where it gets tough.  To address this important question, we are forced to depart from the objectivity of Scripture and delve into the subjective realm of people's thoughts and intentions.  Some of these people I do believe are complete frauds.  Some I have studied for years and believe they are motivated by money and fame and have been very successful in acquiring both.  Others, however, I am not so sure.  In watching many interviews of him, it seems obvious that Todd Burpo loves his son dearly.  He certainly seems like a nice guy.  The story he tells tugs at one's heart strings to be sure.  Don Piper undoubtedly had a devastating wreck and suffered excruciating pain.  However, his claim of seeing God on His throne when he had previously denied this, and denied it quite thoroughly, is difficult to understand.  Bill Weise certainly presents the Gospel well and definitely warns people of coming judgment.  So, in short, no, I think it would be neither right nor fair to make such a serious charge of lying against any of these.  That having been said, neither can I say that I am completely confident of their truthfulness.  I think it is entirely possible that some of these stories began with a vivid dream that, at the time, seemed quite real.  Dreams often do seem very real.  The dream was told to one or two people who then told it to others who then told it to still others and on and on.  The reports grew and became more and more elaborate.  A radio interview here, a newspaper report there, the story snowballs and before long it takes on a life of its own.   To keep up with the hype and publicity the individuals kept up the story and may have even begun to believe it themselves to a degree.  Publicity and the praise of men is an intoxicating elixir and it poses a threat to every preacher no matter how humble – this writer included.  However, our final authority is the Word of God.  No matter how real an experience may seem to us, if it does not plumb with the Word of God then it is an illegitimate experience.  We have exceeded biblical parameters.  We have begun to divorce ourselves and those who listen to us from sole reliance upon the Scriptures.  So, the question about the sincerity or lack thereof of any of these individuals may be an interesting one to ponder, but, in the final analysis it does not matter.  Millions of unsuspecting people are slowly but surely being pulled away from the Bible and are turning to other sources for their spiritual knowledge and nourishment.  The dangers of this cannot be overstated.  These accounts are extra-biblical and often unbiblical.  They divert attention away from the true power of God, the Gospel (Rom. 1:16), and emphasize subjective experiences.  They may be motivational in a superficial sense but they are not capable of convicting people of their sin and need of the Savior.  In the words of hymn writer John Keith, "How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.  What more can He say than to you He hath said? To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?"  What more can He say to us, dear friends, than what He has already said.


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