Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing: Modalism

-...inwardly they are ravenous wolves.- (1)

Gentle Reader,

Today we begin to turn our attention to the aberrant teachings of Shepherd’s Chapel.

The early Church spent several centuries hammering out just what one had to believe in order to be a Christian. (Occasionally they hammered each other, often in scathing and bitingly sarcastic writing. These are my people). The basics of initial salvation were (and are) simple enough: Acknowledgement of sin, understanding the inability of self to save self, repentance of sin, confessing Christ as Lord, belief that He died and rose again. From that simplicity, however, arose complexity, often centering around the person of Jesus. How was He to be defined?

Several theories arose:

Docetism: Jesus only had the “appearance” of humanity. He is a purely spiritual being.

Ebionitism: in contrast with the above, Jesus is a purely human figure.

Arianism: in between the two, Jesus is the first and greatest of God’s creatures. He is semi-divine.

Adoptionism: Jesus is purely human but was “adopted” by God in a mysterious, divine way either at His baptism or resurrection. – Trinitarian Heresies

Ignatius, writing 112-114 A.D., stood against all of these ideas in declaring both the fully divinity and the full humanity of Jesus:

…our Physician is the only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son. We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For ‘the Word was made flesh.’ – Ignatius to the Ephesians

Irenaeus, writing 175 A.D., expanded the thought:

The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father. – Against Heresies; Book 1, Chapter 10

The focus in the second century was largely on reconciling the two natures of Christ as revealed in Scripture. Though the term “hypostatic union” (two full and complete natures, one person) would not be formally coined until the fifth century, it is clear from the New Testament itself and the writings of the early Church that this union, though perhaps not always precisely articulated, was the only way of understanding Christ without sacrificing either His deity or humanity.

Yet this was not an easily settled controversy, nor a “once and forever” settled controversy, for some claiming to the Christians today hold to any of the four views listed above. This is directly related to the understanding and definition of the Trinity, the great discussion of the late third and into the fourth century.

Until the first part of the third century and Origen of Alexandria, there really had not been any significant theological writing on this issue [the Trinity]. Until Origen there was a simple acknowledgment of NT references, mainly John 1:1. …”simple” [meaning] a simple belief of what was written without trying to figure it out and explain it. What takes place, from this point forward, is that church councils and various writers try to define a theological point that almost all adherents admited was a “mystery.” – The Issue of the Trinity

(Note: Origen was a divisive figure in his own day. Highly educated, trained in philosophy, he tried to take all of the Christian and so-called Christian teaching floating around and reconcile it. He tried to arrive at one, final and distinct interpretation of Scripture and the nature of God. His voluminous commentaries on the Bible arose directly out of his disgust for Gnostic heresy. Yet his major work, On First Principles, sent shock waves throughout the Church. I bring this up for two reasons: 1. Not all of Origen’s teaching was accepted as true in his own time and 2. Nevertheless, historians and theologians recognize his writings on the Trinity are very orthodox; he was a major force behind the articulation of the doctrine).

Constantine convened the 325 A.D. Council of Nicea to “bring peace to the Church” and resolve some of these issues. Arius was called on to defined his teaching on the nature of Jesus (“Arianism” above); he was eventually kicked out of the council meeting and condemned. (But this wasn’t necessarily a sign of harmony. The bishops may have been united in their rejection of Arianism, but there is ample evidence to suggest that they disagreed plenty, though their disagreements usually centered on minor matters. They certainly resented the fact that the state now had input in Church matters. Does that sound familiar? I suppose we should take comfort that the family of God has always been a little dysfunctional. It didn’t start with us).

The most important thing to come out of Nicea was, of course, the Creed:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];

Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;

He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

And in the Holy Ghost.

[But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]

At the end of the original creed was added the text above – obviously aimed at Arius. The Nicean Creed

It would take another century and three more councils for a clear demarcation between a Christian view of Christ and a non-Christian view of Christ to be dogmatically adopted. This should not be seen as a changing doctrine of the Church; rather, the Church continued to respond to heresy and to better-articulate what it had believed all along.

Entwined in the debate about the nature of Christ is debate about the nature of the Holy Spirit. (This post is already at 1180 words, so I don’t have time or space to get into the filioque issue, but it is fascinating. Some starter reading here). Essentially everyone agreed that the Spirit is just that, spirit. Whether or not He is a distinct Personage was the problem.

Hence:

Modalism: the three persons of the Trinity are different “modes” or expressions of the Godhead. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not distinct personalities, but different modes of God’s self-revelation. – Trinitarian Heresies

The witness of the early Church about Modalism? A resounding no. (Go here for more information). All the writing, all the discussion, all the councils  affirm the mystery that Scripture teaches: God is Trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all God, but the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and so on.

What does Shepherd’s Chapel teach?

Murray and his followers deny the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, that one God exists eternally in three Persons. They instead teach modalism, the concept that the monotheistic God is a single person who acts through three different offices. Murray voices his adherence to this teaching when he says that God “gots (sic) three offices he serves.” He elaborates:

‘You have these yo-yo’s that will say, ‘Well, I want you to think like (sic) of water and ice’ and so on, various gases or so forth, or then they’ll say, ‘I want you to think of a 200 watt bulb, and a 150 watt bulb, and a 50 watt bulb.’ Well, they’re all the same wattage, friend. So why not just simplify it instead of playing stupid games, and understand that there are three offices of the Godhead. Like this little lady said. She said, ‘To my husband I am a wife, to my children I am a mother, that’s my office. To hundreds of third graders I am their teacher and have been down through the years. That’s a different office; none of them the same, but I’m still the same person.’ I like that. It’s simple and to the point.’

Notice the implication of the example quoted by Murray. Just as the ‘little lady’ is one woman who performs different functions in her roles as wife, mother, and teacher, so God is a single person who performs different functions and is perceived in different ways in his roles as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Murray clarifies his conflation of deity when he states, ‘[Christ’s] spirit is holy and he is the Holy Spirit.’ Since Murray does not believe that Jesus Christ is a Person distinct from the other members of the Trinity, he cannot justifiably claim to believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. – Shepherd’s Chapel Profile

Part of me thinks I should end this series right here. Shepherd’s Chapel clearly stands against what orthodox Christianity has understood to be correct since the writing of the New Testament. This group is not part of the Church. The people in this group are massively deceived.

Next week: Serpent Seed. Ugh.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all the posts in the Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing series, go here.

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Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing: Arnold Murray

-...inwardly they are ravenous wolves.- (1)

Gentle Reader,

I get that this developing series isn’t cool. It’s not “acceptable” to point out the difference between lies and truth. It’s not “tolerant” to think that there is even such a thing as lies or falseness. “What’s true for you is true for you and what’s true for me is true for me.”

Gag. Eye roll.

Especially gag and eye roll because nobody actually believes that line of garbage. Seriously, nobody does. The second anyone talks about “rights” or appeals to a higher authority, the whole “everything is valid” thing is dead and buried. It’s basic logic. But we don’t live in a logical world.

Neither do we live in a world that can ignore Jesus. Have you noticed that? Every single major religion incorporates Him somehow. Even the most militant of atheists can’t ignore Jesus. He is, without doubt, the single-most confrontational person in all of history. Nobody can push Him aside.

And so, cults.

Shepherd’s Chapel was founded by Arnold Murray (1929-1914). I am currently unable to find a precise founding or start date of the group, but Murray began broadcasting his teaching in 1985. The reason for this secrecy is noted by cult-watch group, Watchman Fellowship:

One possible reason for Murray’s reticence to release biographical or historical information is the apparent misinformation circulated by the Shepherd’s Chapel concerning Murray’s alleged doctorate. Evangelical apologist William Alnor asserts that Murray “falsely claims to have a doctorate degree from a properly accredited university or seminary.” This accusation is well substantiated by the research of B.J. Oropeza in 1991.

Oropeza notes that Murray claimed to receive a doctorate from an individual named Roy Gillespie, after writing a dissertation on the book of Daniel. No evidence of such a dissertation was found in The National Union Catalog or through UMI Microfilms (the primary source for copies of theses and dissertations). The claim of a receptionist for Shepherd’s Chapel (an admittedly dubious source for official statements) that Murray’s dissertation was unavailable because it was being “revised” is additionally problematic: dissertations are not revised after being accepted by the author’s dissertation committee and the office of graduate studies at the conferring institution.

Another receptionist [it is important to note that higher-level officials at Shepherd’s Chapel will not reveal any information about the organization; office workers are thus frequently the only source of information concerning Shepherd’s Chapel] told countercult researcher Tony Pierce that Murray had attended Biola University, a Christian institution in Los Angeles. Biola officials note, however, that there is no record of anyone named Arnold Murray having attended the school. – Shepherd’s Chapel Profile

Any time a group or group leader refuses to communicate honestly is a time for concern. This is, at the very least, a sign of a domineering, controlling atmosphere, and most likely a domineering, controlling leader.

The impossiblity of verifying Murray’s clam brings me up short. I do not understand why anyone would want to listen to someone who has such difficulties with transparency. This seems like classic “don’t trust people who aren’t honest.” Yet he managed to develop a following.

Murray was among those fantastic folks who manage to predict Armageddon/the return of Christ. (You know, those who are always, always, without fail, wrong). He taught that Armageddon would happen in a valley on an Alaskan peninsula (incidentally, my husband grew up on the Kenai Peninsula) on June 8-9, 1985.

Cue crickets chirping.

So guess what? That makes him a false prophet. Sandra Turner, in her work on Mormonism, reminds us that that a prophet must teach correctly about God (Deuteronomy 13) and that whatever the prophet predicts must come to pass (Deuteronomy 18). All prophecy should be absolutely and minutely consistent with Scripture and it should absolutely center on God’s glory. You can’t just, you know, get the math or the setting or the people involved wrong. You can’t shrug your shoulders and be like, “Ooops, my bad.”

Again, why anyone would pay attention to Murray (or others who falsely predict future events) isn’t something I understand.

There really isn’t much else to say about Arnold Murray the person. I tried to listen to a “sermon” of Murray’s, thinking that perhaps he was especially charismatic. While I couldn’t stomach a large portion, the nibble I did ingest left me with an, “Oh.” (And a need for spiritual Pepto). Murray was “plainspoken.” This is, I think, a large part of the draw. For all his flaunting of an alleged advanced degree, Murray presents himself as the “everyman.”

I live in a state where people object to politicians being “too smart” or “too educated.” (Idaho, what is wrong with you?) Many fear or are intimidated by those with greater levels of understanding or experience. (As a woman with a theology degree, I live this out on a daily basis). This is exactly what Murray picked up on and exploited (again, at odds with his claiming a doctorate). He struck a chord that runs deep in the United States; the chord of individualism, rejection of authority and the equality of each person before God. Yet the striking is massively deceptive, as we shall see when we begin to examine some of his teaching. For now, know that this “everyman” enticed other “everypeople” to join him in the realm of “better than.”

False teaching, false prophecy, false humility.

Arnold Murray.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all the posts in the Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing series, go here.

Note: Murray’s son, Dennis, has taken over leadership of Shepherd’s Chapel. I am unable to find anything about him online. Anyone who reads this and does know about Dennis Murray, please feel free to contact me.

Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing

-...inwardly they are ravenous wolves.- (1)

Gentle Reader,

I heartily dislike any person who and any teaching that takes Scripture and distorts it. Passionately disdain, if you will. Have trouble concealing my animosity. I want to quote Aaron Sorkin’s creation, President Josiah Bartlet: “No, you’re wrong. Just stand there in your wrongness and be wrong and get used to it.”

Yeah, that whole loving people while speaking truth thing that God wants us to do…I have to work hard on that.

I’m not talking about things that people can legitimately disagree on and still be under the umbrella of historic, orthodox Christianity. My frustration has nothing to do with that. There’s room for colorful people to work together all for the glory of our Savior. I enjoy that kind of spirited diversity, so clearly planned by God.

What sends me into a frothing-at-the-mouth fit are those who masquerade as Christians and aren’t. Those who take the Bible and use it for their own agendas. Those who seek to hide their falseness behind God.

Wolves. In shepherd’s clothing.

Recently I was exposed to a group such a this, one I’d never heard of. The fact that this group had escaped my notice isn’t at all surprising; there are all sorts of cults and semi-cults and plain strangeness floating around out there. I would continue to go about unaware today had not a loved one been hooked by what I hope to convince you is the false teaching of Shepherd’s Chapel, based out of Gravette, Arkansas. (I will not be linking to the Shepherd’s Chapel site or to the sites of any followers referenced in this or future posts, though I will provide enough information for you to search yourself. I will not contribute traffic and therefore legitimacy to these people).

The rabbit hole is deep here, folks. But before we can get into Arnold Murray and his teachings, it is important to step back a century and look at Ethelbert William Bullinger, for he serves as the springboard from which Shepherd’s Chapel emerged.

Bullinger, born in 1837, was active in the Anglican church during the second half of the 19th century. He was a low-churchman, pushing for reform and liberalization of structure. In 1867, he became clerical secretary for the Trinitarian Bible Society and would hold that position until his death in 1913. During his tenure, the TBS was responsible for distributing Spanish-language Bibles following the 1868 revolution in that country, developing a Protestant Portuguese-language Bible and publishing a Hebrew translation of the New Testament. Bullinger himself published three major works, the last of which, the Companion Bible, has had an ongoing impact.

This was by no means an unintelligent man. Bullinger was noted for his skill in translation. He well understood Biblical Hebrew and Greek.

But understanding does not always equal right interpretation or application.

Bullinger’s views began to widely diverge from his contemporaries, first in the arena of dispensationalism. Dispensationalists hold that God has interacted with humans in different ways in different times/eras. The focus is distinctly eshcatological; all true dispensationalists hold to premillenialism and most to a pre-Tribulation rapture of the Church. Crucial to dispensationalists (and Christians in general) is the idea that the Church began on Pentecost.

In contrast, Bullinger taught that the Church began at the close of Acts with what he saw as Israel’s final rejection of God’s grace. The shift in start date appears minor, but it has serious consequences. Bullinger saw the early Christians in Acts as belonging to the “Period Under the Law.” Such a view presents great difficulties, for Paul wrote many letters during the timeline of Acts detailing the interaction of Law and grace; how Christians in general and Gentile Christians specifically were not bound by the ceremonial aspects of the Law. Further, the decisions of Acts 15 make little sense in a “Period Under the Law” context. And if the Church did not begin on Pentecost, just who are the people in Acts? Are they Christians at all?

“Hyperdispensationalism,” as Bullinger’s teaching may be referred to, places serious emphasis on Paul. Proponents believe that the Church is only revealed in the Prison Epistles. Many, though not all, therefore do the Reformers one better and reject every sacrament, for Paul taught neither water baptism nor Communion in his later letters. This presents us with a fantastic example of removing individual texts from the whole, for, taken together, Paul’s teaching in these later letters is consistent with his teaching in the letters found within the Acts timeline.

The emphasis on Paul is troubling in another way, for it contains an extremely subtle anti-Semitism. (We will see this play out as we get into the teaching of Arnold Murray and Shepherd’s Chapel). While dispensationalists in general are not supercessionists (meaning that the Church replaces Israel), dividing the “Jewish Church” from “the Church” as Bullinger and other “Acts 28” hyperdispensationalists do leaves a distinct impression. If the “Jewish Church” in Acts existed under Law and “the Church” of the Prison Epistles and into today exists under Grace, then surely “the Church,” without all of the obligations to ceremony and ritual and distinct lifestyle, is “better.”

This stance of “betterness” makes greater sense in light of the Victorian age in which Bullinger lived. These years saw the rise of British Israelism, which asserts that the people of Western Europe, England especially, are the descendants of the 10 “lost tribes.” This view helped give rise to the “Christian Identity Movement,” which essentially offers a white supremacist interpretation of Christianity.

The years of Bullinger’s life were marked by society’s massive and intense interest in all things spiritual. False religions wearing a Christian mask exploded during the 19th century – Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, to name a few. Thus Bullinger was in good, bizarre company when he taught:

* soul sleep. Upon death, a person exists only in the “memory” of God. This inert state is maintained until the Resurrection and judgment. From this often follows the teaching of annihilationism, meaning that people cease to exist in any way upon death.

* a denial of the Holy Spirit’s person-hood. This lands Bullinger squarely in the non-Trinitarian camp, condemned as heresy for a couple thousand years.

* the “Gap Theory” of creation. There exists an unspecified amount of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 during which God created the world, destroyed it and made it again.

* the Gospel message is encoded in the Zodiac.

* emphasis on Biblical numerology.

* Noah and his family were spared death in the Flood because of their genetic perfection. (Seeds of racial supremacy).

* “two Adams,” based on an incorrect handling of “adam” and “‘eth-‘Ha adam” in Genesis 1 and 2. (This is a cornerstone of Shepherd’s Chapel teaching and something we will examine at length).

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. Humorously, Bullinger may have been a member of the Universal Zetetic Society. They believed that the Earth is flat.

Bullinger’s denial of the Trinity is enough to place him outside the umbrella. Modalism, the heresy that God has revealed Himself in three ways or forms throughout history rather than existing eternally in Trinity, was condemned as early as Justin Martyr’s First Apology, dated to 155-157 A.D. He wrote: “For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.” Hippolytus’ Against Noteus in 203 A.D. and Tertullian’s Against Praxeas in 213 A.D. stand as further early witnesses to the Church’s affirmation of the Trinity.

The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, drafted in 381 A.D., states:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

And [we believe] in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us, humans, and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became fully human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered death and was buried. He rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who in unity with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. [We believe] in one holy universal and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

If any part of the creed is objectionable to a teacher (excepting the East-West schism over filioque, a fascinating topic but beyond the limits of this piece) then the witness of the Church through the ages is clear: The teacher is not Christian.

Whether or not E.W. Bullinger is in Heaven today is not something I can know. I believe that each one of us has the opportunity to embrace truth up until the very last moment of life. God is gracious and merciful. If he chose to cling to his denial of the Trinity and his other at-the-very-least odd beliefs, then he is not in the presence of God. I hope that he rejected all of it and asked Christ to save him.

The trouble is, Bullinger was a teacher. A leader. He left a large body of work for others to run with. This is precisely what Arnold Murrary and Shepherd’s Chapel has done.

Until next time.

My journey to faith. (15)For all the posts in the Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing series, go here.