Extolling the Desolate

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

The following words are going to lose me some readers, so know my heart before you proceed. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I don’t desire complete homogeny in my life. Never, ever will I advocate being a jerk. Neither do I believe that we are to be anything other than loving.

But that love? It is to have a backbone. It is to be rooted in what is true. 

Gentle Reader,

Why do we praise that which is not praiseworthy?

Those who call themselves Christians baffle me in their responses to current events. I choke on the saccharine, sticky, feel-good buzzwords. Acceptance. Tolerance. Love. Forgiveness. Courage.

Nobody defines those words correctly.

When did we become blind to the fact that there is no sin that should be celebrated? Why has our understanding of grace become so disgustingly cheap? The community of faith seems to, in general, buy into the lie that “as long as you’re not hurting anyone, do whatever you want.” Such an idea is antithetical to the Gospel.

No, we Christians should not praise Bruce Jenner. Neither should we call him names or use the anonymity of the internet to share vile thoughts about him. We should be sad. Our love for God and our love for people who struggle with issues like transgenderism should compel us to speak truth. Gentle truth. Respectful truth. But truth nonetheless.

We do not have a God who tells us to surrender to every desire. He does not tell us that salvation came at little cost. He does not tell us that obedience does not matter. He tells us through His word and through the consequences of our experiences that sin and struggle are real because of the pernicious growth of evil in our hearts due to the Fall and our own inwardly warped natures – and He can and will save us from that. Praise Him forever because He loves us as we are but that love means that He cannot allow us to stay as we are.

He is the God who tells us that our hearts are desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We are not to “follow” them so we can be “happy.” We are to follow Him. He is the God who tells us to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). We are not to dwell on every little thing that comes into our heads. Our minds cannot be trusted unless they are renewed and transformed in Him (Romans 12:2). That same verse tells us that we are not to be conformed to the pattern of this world. We are not to shape our lives based on the ever-changing whims of society. We are to base them on God’s truth.

No, we Christians should not engage in the doctrinal gymnastics and outright denial of Scripture that is required to “support” any kind of marriage that is not made up of one man and one woman. Neither should we call any person names or use the anonymity of the internet to share vile thoughts about them. We should be sad. Our love for God and our love for people who struggle with issues like homosexuality should compel us to speak truth. Gentle truth. Respectful truth. But truth nonetheless.

We do not have a God who says it’s fine to ignore Him. He is the God who tells us that He formed us within the secret place of the womb. He knows us at a level beyond minute intimacy (Psalm 139). He says that we were made for His glory (Isaiah 43:7). He arranged creation in such a way that it screams of His continual presence (Romans 1:21). We do not get to shape Him to fit us.

No, we Christians should not swallow the bubble-gum, fortune-cookie, cotton candy garbage continually hawked by men like Joel Osteen. Have we forgotten warnings about deception and itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3)?

If I had been coddled in my sin and praised for my bad decisions, I would be dead today. If I fed on a steady diet of fluff, I would be dead today. It’s that stark and that simple. I know precisely where I would go if left to my own devices. I know exactly what God has saved me from. I am dependent on Him for every breath, awash in His good graces that I can never, ever deserve or repay. I am intolerant of anything less than the radical, transformative, powerful Gospel and the holy, majestic, entirely-other God behind the message.

Yes, intolerant. It breaks my heart. I can’t stand it. There is a physical pain that presses against my chest when I consider all those who blithely march to hell in the name of “progress” and “openness” and “acceptance” and the people who call themselves children of God let the parade go by without so much as a word. No, I don’t believe in being nasty. I do believe in truth. I do believe that Christ’s death and resurrection were for naught without sin. If we remove that ugliness, that separation, from the equation; if we twist words and decide that God did not mean that _________ is wrong, then what would be the point of the Atonement? If there really isn’t such a thing as sin, and this is what we communicate when we support and give pride of place to it, then why did Christ come?

It is not bigotry to say that something is wrong. It’s not. It is not anything-phobic to say that such and such action or stance does not hold up in the light of God’s word. It is actually loving. It is loving to look someone in the eyes and say, “I know that you are hurting. I know that you have this struggle. I know that you have questions. But please, I beg you, do not go your own way. I can’t stand by and let you, a person I care about, tear your life apart. There is something – Someone – so much better.”

Isn’t this what we say to drug addicts? To alcoholics? To women who keep diving in to bad relationship after bad relationship? To the depressed and anxious? Don’t we try to surround them with love that says, “you are safe and I’m with you” and truth that says, “let’s work through this together?”

So why are sexual sins treated differently?

Don’t we look at liars and say, “You are false. You are fake. I cannot trust anything you say and I will not listen to you.”

So why are we silent in the face of false teachers?

I do not expect the world at large to act if they are saved. I do not expect them to care about anything God has to say. I do not expect my national, state or local governments to suddenly shift course and made decisions based on Scripture.

I do expect this of anyone who calls himself a Christian. I expect us to stop extolling the desolate. I expect us to stop giving people enough rope with which to hang themselves. I expect us to expose liars for who they are.

I expect us to follow Christ.

His refrain when interacting with sinners (i.e. everyone)? “Go and sin no more. Repent and be saved. Take up your cross.”

There are also some words about whitewashed tombs and broods of vipers that would apply nicely to the Osteen’s and Hinn’s of the world.

My journey to faith. (15)

Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing: the Overthrow and the Two Adams

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

Gentle Reader,

This series has been difficult. I have reached a point in my life and in my walk with the Lord where false teaching just drives me absolutely batty. When I am exposed to something twisted and wrong taught in the name of God, my pulse pounds. I want to throw things. I want to shake people.

I’ve been tempted to quit. I’ve slammed my laptop closed.

Nevertheless, we march on.

As we discussed last week, all false belief systems contain some element of elitism. This can be expressed as racism, classism, sexism, etc. Shepherd’s Chapel is no exception. Their twisted teaching on Cain and the Kenites, their ideas of preexistence, the thought that only Arnold Murray ever really got it right puts them firmly in that camp. But it gets weirder.

Let’s descend into the crazy, shall we?

Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are used by Shepherd’s Chapel in two main ways: making much out of the word katabole and wrongly understanding adam and eth ha adam. (Obviously those words look quite different in Hebrew; we’re going with phonetics).

First, katabole. This is a Greek word meaning “a throwing or laying down (the injection or depositing of the virile semen in the womb, of the seed of plants and animals); a founding (laying down a foundation).” Katabole appears in the New Testament 11 times; 10 times it is translated as “foundation,” once it is translated as “conceive.”

What does that have to do with the creation account of Genesis?

Shepherd’s Chapel assumes preexistence and, by extension, ascribes to the Gap Theory of Creation. There is some unidentified length of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. God created the world, He destroyed it because of Satanic rebellion and then He “reformed” it. As Shepherd’s Chapel members already believe this, they must make the text conform to the belief. Using their pal Bullinger’s shoddy Companion Bible, they insist that the word should be translated as “disruption, ruin or destroy.”

Except

…when the word is used in connection with the birth of a child it carries the meaning of conceive. When used in the connection with the world it carries the meaning of founding or creating (conceiving the world). It does NOT carry the meaning of destruction, overthrow, destroyed, or ruin in any circumstance. The use of “laying down” or “throwing down” is only correct in the connotation of laying a foundation or creating not in the sense of destroying or judgment. – Colby Braden

And except…Genesis was not written in Greek. Nope. The Hebrew words used to describe God’s creative activity are bara (to shape or create) and asah (to do or make). Clearly nothing about destruction or ruin or overthrowing.

Shepherd’s Chapel students often argue that the word translated as “was” in the KJV and most English Translations of Genesis 1:2 should actually be translated “became” as in “the Earth became formless and void.” This, to them, proves the supposed katabole.

…it suffers from a number of hermeneutical problems:

Time cannot be inserted between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 because verse 2 does not follow verse 1 in time. Verse 2 uses a Hebrew grammatical device that is called a waw-disjunctive. This is where a sentence begins with the Hebrew word for and (waw) followed by a noun such as the earth (erets). A waw-disjunctive indicates that the sentence is describing the previous one and does not follow in time. In other words, verse 2 is describing the conditions of the earth when it was first created. Hebrew grammar simply will not allow for the insertion of vast periods of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 in which a supposed satanic fall took place. – Colby Braden

They think that the text should be translated this way because they already believe it. This is an example of circular reasoning, a logical fallacy in which the reasoner begins with what they are trying to end with.

So, God’s out there creating and destroying and reforming. There’s this battle and if you fight well you’ll be saved and if not you get the curse of free will. Bizarre goings-on about different cosmic ages. He then makes all the races on the sixth day. He makes Adam on the eighth.

Again I am compelled to say that I am not making this up.

Shepherd’s Chapel assumes pre-Adamic races. Using Genesis 1:24-31, they conclude that God created other people because the word adam in verse 26 is the generic term for man or mankind. In Genesis 2:7, the definite article and particle appear, eth ha adam, meaning that a specific adam is the focus. So, obviously (to them), God made a bunch of other people on the sixth day, took a nap break and came back on the eighth to make Adam.

Genesis 1 and 2 are so badly mishandled by this group. There is no understanding whatsoever that the first chapter provides a panoramic view of the totality of God’s work in creation and the second chapter zeros in on humanity. They assume that Genesis 2 is an eighth day. Have you noticed how often that word, assume, keeps popping up?

Please, I beg you to think about this for a second. All the text of the first two chapters of Genesis says is that God made man and named him Man.

There’s just nothing more you can get from it.

No different than naming a sock monkey, Monkey.

Naming a cat, Kitty.

I won’t insult your intelligence by going on. You get the point.

It frightens me how cavalierly people use Scripture. How they twist it and shape it without much thought to the consequences.

My journey to faith. (15)

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

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.