The Fundamental Error of Islam

The Fundamental Error of Islam

  1. A. Ibrahim, Imam of the Islamic Center of Mill Valley writes in A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam states:

Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified. It was the plan of Jesus’ enemies to crucify him, but God saved him and raised him up to Him. And the likeness of Jesus was put over another man. Jesus’ enemies took this man and crucified him, thinking that he was Jesus.

Imam Ibrahim backs this up with a quote from the Qur’an:

(…They said: “We killed the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of God.” They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but the likeness of him was put on another man (and they killed that man)…Qur’an 4:157

The fundamental error of Islam is that it only appeared that Jesus was crucified. This is essentially Docetism. Matt Slick provides a perfect explanation of this Gnostic error.

Docetism was an error with several variations concerning the nature of Christ. Generally, it taught that Jesus only appeared to have a body–that He was not really incarnate (Greek, “dokeo” = “to seem”). This error developed out of the dualistic philosophy which viewed matter as inherently evil–that God could not be associated with matter and that God, being perfect and infinite, could not suffer. Therefore, God as the word, could not have become flesh per John 1:1, 14, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us . . . ” This denial of a true incarnation meant that Jesus did not truly suffer on the cross and that He did not rise from the dead.

The basic principle of Docetism was refuted by the Apostle John in 1 John 4:2-3. “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.” Also, 2 John 7, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.”

Ignatius of Antioch (died 98/117) and Irenaeus (115-190), and Hippolatus (170-235) wrote against the error in the early part of the second century.

Docetism was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

The Gnostics were of two kinds, docetics and adoptionists. The docetics said that it only appeared that Jesus was crucified, but in fact someone else, often Judas, was crucified instead. The adoptionists said that the Christ adopted Jesus and abandoned Jesus on the cross.

The result for both forms was the same: Jesus the sinless Lamb of God, both God and man, did not die on the cross and thus did not take our sin upon Himself. Therefore, there is no salvation in Christ.

Many sects and cults over the centuries have taken a Gnostic stance and thus substituting their own teaching as the means of salvation.

 

 

 

 

 

Off the Charts

Off the Charts[1]

“Off the charts”—this is the phrase that opens the door for the prophets, prophetesses, and others who claim God, angels, or whatnot are speaking to them and revealing the future in “these last days,” because we are no longer in a time and place that the Bible covers, so it is no longer speaking to us.

The rationale is that, due to the fact that the end of history is upon us—an erroneous assumption that is nothing but speculation and based on nothing biblical at all—God is revealing details and events that are not described in the Bible.[2]

When questioned, the proponents of new extra biblical revelations respond, “How do you know God is not revealing new things to the Church?” and “How can you be so certain this is not happening now?” This form of questioning places people like me in a difficult place, since there is little to appeal to of a factual nature. I cannot point to studies, numbers, or other verifiable documentation to support my position. And, on the other hand, neither can those who are open to new revelations appeal to any objective evidence for their claims. Many of us will appeal to Revelation 22:18-19:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of the prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city which are described in this book.

Certainly the “off the charts” proponents will say that the admonition not to add or subtract from the Book of Revelation is merely an ancient form of copyright and is not applicable to the rest of the Bible and does not actually mean that one should not prophesy about these last days.

However, an examination of two other biblical passages suggests this concept to be at least questionable if not downright faulty. First, Deuteronomy 4:2: “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you.” Second, Deuteronomy 12:32: “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” Thus it may be concluded that the warning not to add or subtract can equally be applied to the whole of Scripture.

Despite the obvious, those who are already trapped into believing the contemporary prophets will find it difficult to turn from and expose them. By trapped I mean, once a group or church commits to the words of its prophets about the future, naysayers will not be welcomed and minds will close.

Revelation 22:18-19 may in fact be an ancient form of stating, “Don’t touch this writing,” and legitimately so, as it is a thoroughly biblical warning. In addition, the attempt to justify “new improved truth” and revelations by the “thus saith the Lord” prophets ignores the fact that the Book of Revelation brings us right up to the grand finale, right to the Second Coming of Christ, the Day of Judgment, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the new heaven and the new earth—there is no more history after that, only eternity in the presence of God. And Revelation perfectly corroborates both what Jesus said in Matthew 24 and Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 2.

The history, tradition, and councils of the Church down through the ages make it clear that the Bible is the sole source for Christian faith and practice. It has been the Protestant branch of the Church that has more carefully adhered to this policy, but now, however, we see this being largely abandoned by what I have sometimes called the Fourth Branch of Christianity, the charismatic/Pentecostal branch. It is here where we find the vast majority of those who declare we are off the charts and must open up to fresh words from God.

Sarah Young, Kat Kerr, Patricia King, Lorna Byrne, and many more

Jesus is talking to people now—so promises Sarah Young in Jesus Calling. It is very much like He is on the other end of the phone. Kat Kerr gives a constant flow of messages about what she just heard the other day, directly from God. Patricia King is in on it as well, the high priestess of prophetesses in the Bethel network, receiving messages from the Source. And one of these King predictions is that we are going to have a whole lot of contact with angels in 2015. And angels, being close to God, will be revealing many new things and imparting much needed wisdom. Though in a bit of a different category, the Irish lady Lorna Bryne is constantly, minute by minute, in touch with all sorts of angels and souls.

It is all okay, because we are off the charts. The Bible is not needed now; all we need is an angel, a direct call from Jesus, or even a chat with the Almighty in the “throne room” to find direction, comfort, and wisdom.

The persons mentioned above relate messages, however comforting and assuring, that are essentially false. Sarah talks about Jesus all the time; in fact, Jesus is the focus of the conversations. He is warm, comforting, and full of mercy, but of the ordinary human kind. There is something decidedly missing, namely the Jesus of the Bible. Kat Kerr is as spiritual as one can get, full of Bible phrases, and she loves Jesus. Patricia King is much the same, and all the Jesus talk is enough to convince most people that nothing could be the slightest bit wrong. Lorna Byrne, well she is far from sounding like an evangelical Bible believer, but she does throw in a “Jesus” or two from time to time. Are Christians being deceived? The answer is, they are.

Philpott, why are you writing this?

I am alarmed when I see Christians falling into deception, especially when those who promote and champion these deviations represent such a large swath of the Christian community. Since these views are widely and publically disseminated, it invites people like me to make comment. That is the way it is in a free society.

Five of Sarah Young’s books are among the top twenty-five best selling Christian books in 2014. Kat Kerr is a sensation wherever she travels and is currently on a world tour. Patricia King is easily the most respected and popular prophetess in the Bethel/IHOP/Kansas City Prophets/Morning Star/Toronto-Arnott network, as is made evident in her many YouTube videos. Lorna Byrne is big in the UK and is attracting many new adherents. Her books, Angels in My Hair, Stairways to Heaven, and A Message of Hope from the Angels are all on the bestseller lists in the UK. She is now making an impact in America as well.

Now you understand why I am writing this. And there is one more reason.

I am the pastor of a church; I have a congregation to care for. I read John 10:7-18, and I find Jesus cautioning about wolves who would harm the sheep. Then I read Paul’s warning to the elders of the church at Ephesus:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves ill arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…   Acts 20:28-31a

Concluding remark

This type of warning is something in which I wish I did not have to engage; there is enough work already. I find myself in solidarity with Jude 3: “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

 

[1] This discussion is intramural in nature, that is, between Christians.

[2] This is not the only period in history that Christians have supposed theirs was the last generation and that Jesus’s Second Coming was imminent.

Religion is the Cause of all the Trouble in the World

Religion is the Cause of all the Trouble in the World

The incident

On my way to the ATM machine at my Chase Bank in Corte Madera I walked by a biker who loudly and angrily yelled into his cell phone, “Religion is the cause of all the trouble in the world!”

Punching in my PIN number I listened to more of the one-sided conversation: “Religion has got to go! The zealots are standing in the way of controlling climate change.”

What did the guy sitting astride his Harley mean by religion? Christianity—likely. Hinduism—likely. Buddhism—maybe. Islam—very likely.

 Isms

In a way I agreed with him. Religion has, does, and always will produce conflict among peoples, nations, and tribes, but that is far from the whole story.

I thought about other “isms”. Atheism is an ism. Materialism, capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism—these are also isms. What about democraticism or republicanism? Are these isms?

Communism has known a few rather infamous adherents. Think of Lenin and Stalin, and the latter a mass murderer if ever there was one. Pol Pot of the killing fields fame, a communist. Mao is also in the communism fold, and how many millions did he put away?

Fascism—Hitler and his cronies are about as religious as one could get—about his own brand. Don’t imagine that Hitler was an actual Christian; no, he hated the Christian Church, and its destruction was on his list right after the Jewish people.

Shintoism and Buddhism had Japanese zealots in that era, and their atrocities against the Chinese and Koreans—egregious.

I could go on, digging deeper into history, but I hope to have made my point.

Religious?

 We are all religious. No one is without an ism, including those who embrace Darwinism. We are born to believe in something, and we do, and there is usually a group already organized who has the ism all laid out in neat slogans, platitudes, and doctrines.

Mel Gibson’s film, Apocalyto, described the Aztec takeover of the Mayan culture in the sixteenth century. That primitive and native religion, which is essentially shamanism, may be one of the world’s largest religions, however unorganized the practitioners are. The Aztecs and their religion make the Islamic State beheaders look like beginners.

I have an ism, you have an ism. If that biker at the bank expressed his own ism to its logical extreme, would he advocate worldwide suicide so the animal and plant kingdom could survive? Pollution and global warming—maybe the humans ought to be phased out and allow other life forms to dominate. Some call this “ultimate environmentalism”.

Fundamentalism—it’s idealists are found among all the other isms. They are the ones who want to go back to the basics and nothing but the basics. The Salafis in the Islamic far right want to live like Muhammad and the first few generations who followed. (Al-Baghdadi, the 8th Caliph and head of the Islamic State is a Salafi.) Seventh century customs and practices—their ideal way to go, but maybe not with the camels and sandals.

Toxic and Cultic

Most ordinary religious people simply carry on and desire to live out their lives in peace. Yet, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians all have their fundamentalists, and we read about them in the papers from time to time. It is among the idealists, the fundamentalists, where things can go wrong. They take matters into their own hands and crush the infidels if necessary. Their way or the highway, since their doctrines are pure and righteous, without which all is lost.

We are all vulnerable to being cultic and dangerously toxic; this is especially so for those who think they are immune. Yes, there is a certain comfort and security in thinking you have it all down, with all questions answered and nothing to get confused about. This is the zone of the cultic mentality, where anyone out of step must be set straight, even dealt with severely. When the cult has political dominance, this process can become exponentially horrific. Imagine life in an Islamic State, if their power was absolute and Sharia Law was practiced across the board. Scary indeed.

Is my ism better than your ism? It may well be, but then what? For me, I believe Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him. I know that some will follow Jesus, others will not. If fact, I know that there will only be a few who follow Jesus at any given time. In Matthew 6:13-14 we find Jesus saying:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

This does not mean that I will harbor ill will towards those who do not see that Jesus is the Savior as I do. I may make reasonable efforts to be a witness for Christ to those who do not know Him, and this is my way of being loving. However, the person who rejects Jesus does not become my enemy but is instead someone to pray for and continue to love and witness to.

The anti-religious biker

 Even that biker is religious; he simply has a different religion, something he holds as the most important thing, even if it is a negative. He just doesn’t realize his “something” is a religion. What you follow as the ultimate truth is your religion. I am a follower of Jesus; this is my religion and my spiritual path. For those who assume that serious spirituality can be without religious practice, such spirituality is a hobby only. Saying, “I am spiritual but not religious,” is an empty claim.

The biker is entitled to his ism. So are you. So am I. So is the Muslim, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the communist, and so on. The problem is the extremist, the fundamentalist, and the self-righteous, who is convinced everyone else must believe as he does. Or else!

Religion is the cause of all the trouble in the world.

 We might as well accept this as fact.

To put it another way: Show me a troublemaker who has no religion, no set of values or ideas about what is real and ultimately significant. Go ahead, do it, and I will be satisfied. I am confident that neither you nor anyone else can. Strong convictions that lead to strong action comes from religion.

The real trouble

 Isms are one thing; the people who embrace them are another. The real trouble is the people, that is, us. And I mean all of us.

The “weeping” prophet Jeremiah stated it clearly: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

This means all hearts, yours and mine. Here is what Jesus said about it: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:19-20a).

Jesus was arguing with the religious authorities of Judaism. There were many rules about almost everything, and in this passage the question had to do with eating food with unwashed hands. It was a religious rather than a hygienic issue. Jesus took the opportunity to point out that the best of religious observance did not go to the heart of the matter. In this case, they had disconnected the spiritual basis from the religious practice, leaving the practice empty.

Ideas are powerful; they may motivate, inspire, or take you over to the point you become a slave to the idea. The idea slaves are then sanctioned to protect, promote, and defend the group against outsiders and unbelievers. This goes for dictators of any stripe, plus Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians. Remember, we all are vulnerable.

Indeed “It is me, it is me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”

Were the Crusaders and Inquisitors Christians? Yes, No, Maybe

Were the Crusaders and Inquisitors Christians?

Yes, No, Maybe

Part One: The Crusaders

“Crusader” is a negative word to many, and maybe deservedly so, but we may have to reconsider that reactive position. Following is a brief summary and examination of the history of the crusades themselves. Perhaps we will be able to determine just how Christian or un-Christian the crusaders actually were.

There were eight crusades in all, from 1095 to 1294. Oddly enough, no Arab tribes played much of a role, if any, in fighting the crusaders. This is not to say that Muslim armies were not involved, but exactly who within Islam actually participated is another issue.

The French, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, initiated the first crusade. The purpose was to wrest control of Jerusalem away from the Muslim Seljuk Turks, who had taken it in 1070. Jerusalem had previously been part of the Fatimid Empire, composed mostly of Shia Berbers from North Africa, and during their control of the Holy City, Christians were allowed to visit their special religious sites. But such was not the case with the Seljuks, who violently persecuted the Christians and desecrated and destroyed churches. After a time, Pope Urban II called for the rescue of the Holy City from the Islamic infidels.

Bouillon, certainly a member of the Roman Catholic Church, managed to murder 70,000 Muslims and even burned down synagogues crowded with Jewish people hoping to escape the violence around them. Despite the slaughter, many of the European soldiers married local Muslim women and perhaps Jewish women, as well; they settled down, and for at least forty years the Christians and Muslims lived peacefully side-by-side.

The second crusade in 1144 was undertaken when a Kurdish army from Mosul (now in the modern state of Iraq) attacked a Christian fortress in Edessa (now in the modern state of Turkey). As a result, Pope Eugenius III called for a crusade. Two Christian armies, one French, the other German, were completely decimated by the Seljuk armies while on their way to join the battle at Edessa. A monk named Bernard of Clairvoux was engaged in this one. Following the crusade nearly forty more years of peace ensued.

The third crusade was dominated by the famous Kurd, Saladin (1137–1193), who became the Sultan of Egypt. His army defeated the crusader army at the Horns of Hittin on July 4, 1187, a site just above the Sea of Galilee. It proved to be the most famous of all the battles during the crusade period. Jerusalem surrendered, and Saladin dealt humanely with the survivors; there was no sacking or murdering, and the city was kept open to Christian pilgrims. But Jerusalem’s fall inspired the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to call for a third crusade in 1189. He led a French army into Turkey, where he died crossing a creek. The Seljuks quickly destroyed his army.

There was, however, more to the third crusade. King Richard the Third of England (the “Lion Heart”) gathered an army of Norman Knights, set off for the Holy Land, and proceeded to capture Acre and Jaffa on the Mediterranean Coast, even defeating Saladin at the battle of Arsuf.

The two commanders treated each other with respect and signed a peace treaty on September 2, 1192, the terms of which left Jerusalem in the hands of the Muslims, while the Christians retained the coastal areas where Acre, Caesarea, and Jaffa were located.

Pope Innocent III in and around 1195 called the fourth crusade. This one had nothing to do with the Holy Land or Muslims, but the goal was to free up Jerusalem. The French crusaders entered Constantinople, home of the Greek Orthodox Church, who resented the presence of the Roman Catholics and rose up against the crusaders. In the battle that resulted, the crusader ‘Western’ Christians did not kill many Greek ‘Eastern’ Christians, but they did completely pillage the city. After a short period, the crusaders made off with their loot and headed for home. Nothing was accomplished.

Pope Honorius III, Innocent’s successor, who could not accept the results of the fourth crusade and called for a fifth, fomented the fifth crusade. This time mainly Germans and Hungarians marched off to Jerusalem by way of Egypt in 1217. The army spent three years in skirmishes with the Kurdish Ayyubids in Egypt. They failed to make headway and finally called it quits and sailed home.

The sixth crusade’s outstanding personality was the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II who was the grandson of the famous Barbarossa. Now Jerusalem was ruled by John of Brienne, whose daughter was married to Frederick II, and thinking that marriage gave him authority over Jerusalem, he called for the sixth crusade in 1225. Due to the knowledge and negotiating skills of the remarkable Frederick, the crusade was peacefully conducted without one battle or casualty.

Frederick had studied a great deal about Islamic literature, science, and philosophy, which gave him a solid platform for interaction with the leader of the Islamic army, Malik al-Kamil, who was the nephew of the great Saladin. The two leaders resolved the confrontation by signing a ten-year treaty in 1229. (Ten years was the maximum time allowed for a treaty according to Sharia Law.) Christians and Muslims alike welcomed the terms of the treaty. Unhappily, the new pope, Pope Gregory IX, hated Frederick and refused to ratify the treaty, denouncing it vigorously.

Things went from bad to worse after Sultan Kamil’s death in 1238, when a maverick Turk from Russia named Baibars led a Mameluk (Muslim) army against Jerusalem, sacking it and slaughtering the citizens in 1244.

King Louis IX of France called the seventh crusade. In 1250 he brought an army to Egypt and sailed up the Nile to Cairo, where Baibars demolished his army. Baibars warred against everyone, Christian and Muslim alike, in an effort to establish his power and authority. His hate and murderous anger was mostly directed toward Christians, and he attacked one city after the other along the Mediterranean coast—Caesarea, Safad, Jaffa, and Antioch. He killed and enslaved thousands of Christians. Jerusalem was now firmly in the hands of Muslims, and the seventh crusade came to an end.

The eight crusade flowed out of the outrage perpetrated against Christians in the seventh crusade. Louis IX demanded a new crusade in the year 1270. His plan was to come through Tunis on the way to Egypt, but a few days after landing in Tunis he died of dysentery.

Baibars had not conquered one target, Acre, the site of a truly strong fortress. He died in 1277 (these crusades could last years), and his successor, Sultan Khalil, managed to finally defeat the crusaders at Acre in 1291, killing or enslaving some 60,000 Christians there.

Impact of the Crusades

 The crusades deepened the divide between the Eastern and Western wings of the Catholic Church, a rift that was already underway.

Related to that, the crusades greatly weakened the Byzantine Empire, which succeeded the Holy Roman Empire.

The crusades also permanently embittered relations between Christians and Muslims, and they are used to this day to rationalize a continuing hatred that often erupts into violence. The fact that both Christians and Muslims committed horrible atrocities is often forgotten or conveniently submerged. Muslims have cited Christian crusader actions as justification for their own brutality. This is not a surmise, but openly declared by contemporary Islamic jihadists, whose portfolio of rallying cries includes something close to, “Remember the crusades.” They legitimize their call for revenge by pointing to what the Christians did in the crusades. This is completely disingenuous, of course, but nevertheless effective.

Promotion of religion by force of arms demonstrates weakness of ideals, ethics, and message. To spread the faith by means of intimidation is the worst possible program, one that no one can really respect. Not only the Muslims but also Christians have been guilty here. (This topic will be explored in greater detail in the second section of this essay, the Inquisitors.)

As early as the fifth century, and many say long before, becoming a Christian required baptism by an ordained priest of the one Catholic and Apostolic Church. Faith and grace now abandoned, the Church became a power structure and fell into the same tactics employed by any other secular institutions. Some use the word “Christendom” to describe the Church as empire combining religion with the state.

The crusades marked a departure from the Church’s mission to preach the Gospel to all nations. By picking up the sword, it was giving in to the barbaric culture of that day. The Church was intertwined with the state, the state using the Church and the Church using the state to advance goals and consolidate power.

As a result, the core doctrine of conversion was severely compromised. To coerce a person into leaving one faith for another is absolutely unbiblical. Requiring a choice of whether to convert, die, or pay the tax is not exactly proper evangelism, but the Church was guilty of this just as were the Muslims, and contemporary Muslims still employ these means. It cannot be said today that the Christian Church advances by means of force and fear.[1]

The same crusader mentality that was seen in the crusades also resulted in the persecution of whom we today call evangelical Christians, especially those who reject infant baptism, transubstantiation (Jesus being actually present in the Bread and the Cup), and the necessity of receiving other sacraments in order to go to heaven—in other words, those who adhere to salvation by grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone.

The story of two ancestors of mine might be of interest now. The first is about Sir John Philpott.

John Philpott was a “Salter and Pepperer” (a grocer) who lived in the latter part of the fourteenth century in London, England, while the One Hundred Years War with France was underway. He relied on his merchant fleet to bring foodstuffs into England from the Continent, but with a combination of a weak English king and an aggressive French king, Philpott’s business was faltering. He was able, however, to convince the English king to allow him to outfit his ships into a navy and be crewed by convicts from London’s prisons, of which there were plenty. The result was a series of victories by Philpott’s navy, and on the strength of that he was elected Lord Mayor of London in 1388 and 1389. He was a faithful Christian, and in his will he left 100 pounds to the poor of London at Christmas time. In the old city of London there is still Philpott Lane where a plaque commemorating this faithful Catholic and Christian man has been installed.

Then there was another Englishman, again named John Philpott, this time living in the sixteenth century. He was a Puritan, meaning he hoped that the newly founded Church of England that broke away from the Roman Church, precipitated by King Henry VIII, would be purified, that is, would conform more closely to what we see of church in the New Testament. Philpott was forced into the Court of the Inquisitors and found guilty. Refusing to recant, he was burned at the stake in 1555. (Burning at the stake was used, because it was thought that would make a bodily resurrection impossible.)

Part Two: The Inquisition

 Although the story of the development of the Church in the centuries leading up to the “Dark Ages” (stretching from approximately 500 to 1500 A.D.) is not so easy to uncover, there is evidence that the faith of Jesus and the early disciples was not extinguished. That it was diverted, perverted, and undermined, especially toward the ending of the third century, is fairly plain history, at least as evangelicals read it.

During that dark time, the vibrant faith we see in the New Testament gradually shifted to a more formalized, mechanical, ritualistic, even magical understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. Especially after the so-called conversion of Constantine in the early fourth century, people became members of the Church and counted among the faithful despite their never hearing the real Gospel message nor knowing much of anything about the core doctrines of Scripture.

The power of the Church over salvation, the only really important issue in life, was under the control of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. Those who rebelled against this were the targets of the Inquisition, the first Court of which was formed around the year A.D. 1231 and continued for some three or four centuries. From the Church’s point of view, the Inquisition was necessary, because many good Catholics were turning away from the doctrines of the Church, especially after publication of the Bible in common languages, which allowed people to see what the Bible actually said and taught. For nearly a thousand years it had been hidden in a dark covering of non-intelligible Latin, Greek, or Hebrew.

Reacting against the common person’s new biblical understanding and its effect of causing questions about the Church’s doctrines, the Church then considered ‘heresy’ to be the most heinous of all crimes.[2] There is evidence that many of the Church leaders were troubled by the means selected to keep the Church pure. Often the Church would plea with the secular authorities that sentences to be carried out mercifully. However, we know that the Cathari (or Albigenses) and the Waldenses were persecuted, sometimes to death, during the 1220s by the order of Pope Gregory IX.

Fringe Christian groups were not the only ones to find their way into the court of the Inquisition, a court with judge and prosecutors. As with John Philpott in 1555, the point at the center of the trials had to do with the elements of the Mass, otherwise known as Communion, Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. Along with the Reformers (i.e., Martin Luther and John Calvin), Philpott believed the bread of the Eucharist was just bread and the juice in the cup just juice. But the Church had developed the concept that the bread was transformed by an act of the priest into the actual body, the flesh, of Jesus. Likewise, the juice invisibly became the actual blood of Jesus.

Two Latin words were actually pronounced by the priest before the Mass began—“hocus pocus”—and when the words were pronounced, the magical power inherited from Peter and passed down through the priesthood transformed the substances, shazam!

How this came to be is not possible to describe here, but there is an actual history to it. The short version is this: The Church had become far too Western in its understanding of the Middle-Eastern document we call the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. And when Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:53-55), the Roman Church took these words literally.

To take Jesus’ words literally, however, would have been impossible for a Jewish person in that era, the previous era, and the following era. And the early history of the Church clearly reveals that the passage was taken metaphorically, after all the Church was mostly made up of Jews for about a generation. The point was that the disciples were to trust in and believe in Jesus as the Savior and that His death on the cross, with His broken body and shed blood, was the once-forever sacrifice for sin. Therefore, long after the ‘Eastern’ sense of things was lost, the ‘Western’ mindset misunderstood much of the nature of and means of redemption or salvation.

The Inquisition was aimed at Christians, but Muslims and Jews were also tried, and many were executed. It is only natural that Muslims and Jews would have a negative reaction to this, and it is certainly possible that it yet lingers as something else horrible that ‘Christendom’ did.

During the period of the Inquisition there were undoubtedly thousands of bishops, priests, and regular members of the Church who sincerely thought they were being faithful Christians on both sides of the Inquisitors’ charges, those targeted and those hurling them. Undoubtedly, there were thousands of Christians who were horrified at what was being done. And during the period of history when the church and state were wed, significant resistance was virtually out of the question. Such resistance did come, in 1517, under the inspiration of a Catholic monk named Martin Luther.

PART THREE: YES, NO, MAYBE

Were those who conducted the Inquisition real Christians?

Were the crusaders real Christians?

Were the Muslims who fought against the crusaders real Muslims? Or, to put it another way, are those Muslims who engage in violent jihad the real Muslims?

To these questions the answer is, Yes, No, and Maybe.

Looking at Christians

It must be said that no one could possibly know for sure whether real and actual born again Christians committed atrocities against Muslims and Jews, in that day or in this. Even had a group of careful observers watched the murder of Muslims and Jews at the hand of people known as Christians during the crusades and at other times, would it have been clear which was the right conclusion? The proper answer would have to be No!

Why is this so? The core of the answer lies in the mystery of conversion. Sure, one can be baptized, join a church, and reform his or her life, but this is far from genuine Christian conversion. Being a part of a church does not mean one is a Christian. Conversion means that the Holy Spirit indwells the one believing in Jesus, the one who has had all sin removed and forgiven. It is a profound spiritual experience, not an intellectual or emotional one. It is something God does completely apart from anything an individual can do. It is miracle and mystery. Every pastor who has ministered to a congregation for ten or more years knows that in that congregation are those who have truly been born again and those who have not.

Not that every real Christian does right and lives right. A Christian is growing up into the fullness of Christ, little by little, first as an infant, then a toddler, young child, older child, adolescent, teen ager, young adult, adult, older adult, and senior. Still after a lifetime of maturing, the Christian is not anywhere perfect until in heaven and in the presence of our holy God.

Is it possible that a Christian could be deceived into thinking that killing and persecuting others because they believed differently is justified? Yes, it is possible.

Might Christians commit horrific acts because they were told to do so by powerful religious authorities? Yes, it is possible.

Would a biblically literate Christian believe they were serving God by persecuting or even killing “infidels”? No, unless there was some unknown source of intimidation going on behind the scenes, and/or such Christian had his or her mind bent to the point that they became merely tools of evil.

Perhaps the right answer for all of these questions is, maybe!

Would persecuting or killing a non-Christian win approval with God? Would it ensure a place in heaven? To both of these, the answer is an unequivocal, No!

Would defending the cause of Christianity, the Church, a Christian leader, or anything else in all creation through harming others merit the favor of God? Certainly not! Would dying in defense of the God of Scripture assure a place in paradise? In no way!

This is my solemn opinion as a follower of Jesus.

Looking at Muslims

 It is understood by a growing number of Christians and non-Christians alike that what is observed in the Islamic State (IS), and all those who practice violent jihad, does not represent true Islam. However, this is debatable.

Muhammad did force non-Muslims into submission and made them pay a tax to stay alive. Muhammad did behead captured enemies, or at least ordered such and then observed the process. He did cut off the hands of thieves. He did arrange that captured women and children be sold as slaves. He did permit captured women to be taken as concubines; in fact, his last wife was a beauty he had rescued from a Jewish tribe that the Muslim army had defeated. Muhammad authorized lying if and when the cause of Islam was being defended or advanced. He did practice forced conversions. Whatever Muhammad did in his lifetime, as spelled out in the Qur’an, found in the Hadiths or in the biography of Muhammad written by Ibn Ishaq, are being imitated by the Islamic State now. And this the Caliphate does not deny but proudly embraces.

Not only not deny, but IS would view non-compliance to be at minimum weakness, if not downright apostasy. This is the present state of affairs. Muhammad taught that Islam would be global and the entire world would then be at peace, and it was the task of Muslims to bring this about. Anything less than is un-Islamic.

Then there is Salafism. This term describes Muslims who practice a conservative, even radical form of their faith. They attempt to imitate Muhammad and hope to live under Sharia Law. It is just that they cannot do so except in a place where it is politically and culturally possible. “Most Salafis are not jihadists, and most adhere to sects that reject the Islamic State” writes Graeme Wood in his March, 2015, article in Atlantic entitled, “What ISIS Really Wants.” They might, however, if given the chance, be every bit as strict as violent jihadists. Wood states that Salafis might implement “monstrous practices such as slavery and amputation – but at some future point.” The Salafis’ stated agenda is to purify their personal lives, including personal hygiene, and to be faithful in prayer and observance of all standard forms of the main rituals of Islam.

Are all those who promote and are part with violent jihadists real Muslims? If the answer is No, then it must be asked, “How could this be?”

There are many reasons why one would turn to violent jihad other than wanting to live like Muhammad. Is it possible that young men and women living in very poor circumstances, without much of a future, could be recruited into something they would later regret? Perhaps peer pressure overcomes them. Perhaps boredom, hopelessness, or a strong sense of inferiority might trigger the desire for a radical change in living. By means of the Internet, which jihadists use but detest at the same time, they recruit these vulnerable youth.

The Internet also shows clearly what is available in the western world, and could envy be an instigating element that plays on the Muslim mind? Or, might a motivator be a chance for a quick ticket to paradise and seventy-two virgins, which may appear to be about the only way to get love?[3] Might young men and women be driven to distraction, to a cultic or toxic state of mind and made willing to do about anything to lift themselves out of depression and despair?

Since Islam is both religion and state, which predominates? Or is there such a blending that there is no religion or state, just Islam? Islam is yet very much tribally oriented, one tribe against another, which is plain to see in daily news stories. Is the Muslim fighting for Muhammad, the imam, the umma (Muslim community), the political boundary, or just what? This question might receive a hundred different answers, and silence as an answer could be expected.

Are all fighters with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the various Shia and Sunni militias, even with ISIS, true Muslims? Yes, No, and Maybe! Only God knows.

Kent Philpott

February 25, 2015

[1] Instances of wrongly motivated attempts to convert so-called “primitive” people groups were occurring well into the nineteenth century, e.g., forcing of Western/Christian culture and religion on native Americans on reservations and similar activities by Britain in India. Broadening the argument to include these examples or others is not possible in the space allowed, but we acknowledge needing to discuss this elsewhere.

[2] One is reminded of the mindset of extreme fundamentalist Muslims today, i.e., ISIS.

[3] Have you ever wondered at how confused Muslim sexuality must be, in places dominated by the imams at the mosques for sure, what with honor killings, female circumcision, arranged marriages, veiled females, often from head to toe, polygamy, no dating, no public canoodling, no nothing really, and everything associated with love and sex declared to be sin and worthy of lashes and other forms of mistreatment.

Fishing and Farming

Fishing and Farming

I have done some fishing—not as much as I would like—but I do plan to do more in years to come. And I’ve done some farming—only in the back yard—yet it is has been a dream of mine. Maybe a plot of land with a trout creek winding through it…One can at least dream.

Wait a minute here: I am a fisherman and a farmer already, actually somewhat of a journeyman, if my many years of experience count. And, biblically speaking, we all are. Now is my opportunity to speak of some of the finer points of both fishing and farming.

Going Fishing

Jesus said to Peter and Andrew his brother, who were both actual fishermen, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).

They knew how to use nets and drag lines with baited hooks. They loved the big hauls, and they also knew the disappointment of fishing all day and night without a bite. They learned to take the bad with the good.

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John Zebedee, and two other unnamed disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee). The seven fishermen toiled all night but did not catch even one fish. Before the disciples knew it was Jesus, they were told by a person on the shore to cast their net “on the right side of the boat and you will find some” (John 21:6). It turned out there were 153 fish in the net they dragged to shore. Jesus then cooked up some of the fish for a joyous breakfast.

Fishing = evangelism. The great commission to make disciples of all nations, to take the saving message of the cross to the entire world—this missionary evangelism may be likened to fishing.

The knowledgeable fisherman is patient. He or she throws out the bait, using the best possible methods appropriate to the stream, lake, or sea. Then the wait, being alert for the nibble, the stiffening line, the tip of the pole suddenly bent, and there is a fish on the line. Sometimes the hook is not set just right and the fish flops off, perhaps to be caught at a later time by someone else—this is fishing. Sometimes nothing, sometimes just a few, or sometimes a full net.

The fisherman lives to fish, dreams of fishing, speaks of fishing, is among family and friends who also fish, and though success might be illusive, the fishing goes on.

The metaphor is perfect; Peter and the rest, fishermen they were and fish they did, and the impact of their catch impacts us yet.

My dad taught us Philpott boys how to fish when we were little and took us with him to streams and rivers all over the Portland, Oregon area: the Willamette, Sandy, Columbia, and many of the streams whose headwaters were on Mt. Hood, like the Clackamus. Fish, fish, fish—we loved it and I still do, and both kinds.

Trout on the line—a person who comes to Christ through a simple witness of the grace and love we see in His cross—this is what it is all about, that specialness that the fisherman alone knows.

Farming

Jesus’ parable of the Sower is one I have long considered a favorite. It is about a farmer who plants seeds, and the message of this parable is of great importance to all Christians.

The sower goes out to sow. (I am looking at Mark’s rendering of the parable found in 4:1-9, and also at Jesus’ explanation as to it’s meaning in verses 13-20.)

This is how it works: the farmer, the sower, goes out into the field. That is half of it or even more—the going out. The seed we understand to be the “word” of God, the story of who Jesus is and what Jesus did, and the word is scattered about.

There are many soils, many terrains, and many different climates and weather patterns; thus each farm must be dealt with differently, but the seed is sown nonetheless.

The farmer casts the seed about, and it ends up all over the place—on the road, in rocky areas, among weeds, and even some on really good dirt. There is a certain extravagance here—the farmer lets go handfulls of seed, scattered almost to the wind. The tiny seeds fall where they may.

The farmer knows that only some of the seed will yield a crop, the birds will get their share, the rocks will prevent a real plant from developing, and weeds will choke out plants that looked healthy at first. Despite it all, there will be fruit in varying amounts.

Some farmers will see a large harvest, others somewhat less, still others not so much. That is merely a detail. The great thing is to be a farmer, a sower of seeds, and then wait and see what God will do. We may have the best seed and the finest soil, but it all depends on what God has in mind. And we do not find fault, blame ourselves, or even compare ourselves to other farmers. It is just good to be there in the fields, throwing out the seed as best we are able.

Fishing and sowing—the great adventure, a privilege beyond description; and we get to do this.

Kent Philpott

February 5, 2015

Sarah Young and Jesus Calling

Sarah Young and Jesus Calling

Sarah Young practices ‘listening prayer’, in which she hears messages directly communicated from Jesus. It is a technique she describes in her bestselling book Jesus Calling, which has sold over 9 million copies in 26 languages. This book is the 5th bestseller for the first half of 2013 for all books, not just Christian books. Through it all, the author maintains a low profile, partly due to physical disabilities, and thus she is relatively unknown. She has experienced chronic physical difficulties for many years and writes inspiringly of her loving connection with whom or what she thinks is Jesus; the messages comfort and encourage her.

It all began with Sarah wondering if she could receive messages during times of prayer. She hoped God would talk to her personally. And it began to happen. And yes, she believes that Jesus is really and actually speaking with her. She prays then listens, and He answers. This has been her experience for many years.

As she hears she journals what she hears, and after a number of years she published some of what she heard. Readers and prayer groups are encouraged and comforted by the messages, and as sales of books demonstrate, she has a growing audience. Many thousands are now taking up the practice of listening prayer.

The key question which must be asked is, who is speaking? Is it possible there is a clever demonic counterfeit here?

Over the centuries Christians have thought that God does speak to them. Richard Foster, who champions contemplative prayer or meditative prayer, defends Young’s practice. He has modeled his own recommendations for deep meditation and contemplation on what Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola, and many others practiced and experienced centuries ago. What Young does is the same as or quite similar to the exercises of these so-called Christian mystics.

Sarah Young describes her own custom as meditating on Scripture and then waiting quietly to hear a reply from Jesus. When Jesus speaks she writes down what she heard or was placed on her heart. The words or messages are not revelatory in the sense of prophecy or fortune telling she insists; the content of the messages are fairly ordinary and biblically based. The Bible plays a major role in Sarah’s life and she firmly believes it is the inspired revelation of God, however, and it is a huge however, she wanted more than what the Bible offers. She indeed got more and has come to rely on these communications, the “encouraging directives from the Creator,” as she likes to say.

But there is a worrisome twist.  When Young journals the words spoken by Jesus they are written in the first person with Jesus as the person speaking. It is not, “Jesus said,” rather it is, “Focus on me.” Since she purports to write down whatever Jesus says readers of her book must conclude that her journal is as authoritative as the Bible, almost a fifth Gospel. If this is not so, then Jesus Calling is a false writing, an imitation, albeit very clever, of a revelation from God.

Young’s error then is serious and similar to that of the Course in Miracles, supposedly communicated by Jesus to Helen Schucman in the 1970s. Schucman’s Jesus dictated profoundly spiritual concepts to her, which she wrote down, and one of the most successful new age cults was born. Schucman’s Jesus bears little resemblance to the biblical Jesus, unlike Young’s Jesus, but could this make the counterfeit even more difficult to detect?

Young’s book sales are phenomenal, and again I cannot help but be reminded of Helen Schucman and the Course in Miracles. As I study Jesus Calling I do see a difference in the two books. Young’s book is far more biblically Christian than Schucman’s. The difference is clear and I am tempted to embrace Young’s claim to hear the voice of Jesus. But it will not work. There is neither biblical precedent nor warrant for quieting oneself, praying, and then listening for Jesus to speak. This is perhaps the most serious and dangerous counterfeit to be found in the broad spectrum that is Charisma today.

The Jesus supposedly speaking to Sarah Young is very affirming and encouraging, but little else. The messages lack the doctrinal content of the real Jesus found in Scripture. In fact, when one orders one of Sarah’s books on Amazon.com one sees that those who bought Sarah’s book also like the books of Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen – purveyors of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. Sarah’s Jesus is more like a warm fuzzy teddy bear.

Let me note that nowhere in Scripture does God promise to speak individually to believers or answer prayer by speaking directly to the one praying. This is the critical point. What I discovered in my decades of ministry is that, if you want to hear things from God you will, eventually. But the communication is not from God, however real and spiritual the communication might be.

John 10:27 is quoted by proponents of Young’s book as proof that Jesus speaks directly to His ‘”sheep.” “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” To “hear” is to know Jesus as the Good Shepherd as distinct from a false shepherd or a wolf; the literal application of “hear” does not work here. It is the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer at conversion who “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).

An instruction for believers to listen for the actual voice of Jesus is foreign to the New Testament writings. There is nothing in Scripture about praying then listening for a response. It is surprising that so many do not know this. Churches across the country have “prayer” groups devoted to Young’s methods. It illustrates the fascination with feelings and direct experiences rather than seeking to learn what the Word of God actually teaches.

We are all hungry to know more of God and little by little we do grow up into the fullness of the stature of Christ. (see Ephesians 4:1-16) Following Jesus is a lifelong process and there are no short cuts. Quick and easy methods of “going direct” to the source can be addictive and difficult to disengage from. Christians, yet sinners and living in a sinful world, are pilgrims and the road is straight and narrow and often filled with pain and sorrow. God hears our prayers, does strength and comfort us, but speaks to us through the Scripture. That is enough for us. We do not need more. Eve wanted more and she got it, but it brought disaster upon her and all of us.

A Church Newsletter

This post is the newsletter I prepared for the church of which I am pastor. There is a wider message, one which may be of some value to those who are not the direct recipients of the original newsletter.

Dear Church Family

Yesterday afternoon, right after the Thanksgiving dinner leftovers, I headed out into the neighborhood where our church building is and had a most wonderful time. I came back with 13 less booklets titled, God’s Glory, which is a handsome yearly calendar with lots of extras, plus a music CD, and a book mark with a schedule of our meetings. On the reverse side there is a wonderful piece Katie wrote, which I read to all 4 of the people I had a chance to talk with and which proved to be a perfect ice breaker. Every one of these was divorced and knew about our workshop, and this lead into a couple of rather deep conversations. I was surprised at how these people had very positive things to say about our MAC and every one of them said they would like to visit.

I intend to continue this “invitation evangelism” every afternoon after lunch that I can. Years ago I did this same thing and it yielded some fruit. There are about 40 booklets left and I am going to get them all out, by God’s grace, in the next couple of weeks.

The Friday before this past Sunday (November 30), Katie and I went into San Francisco to get some video footage for a book trailer we are getting ready for Memoirs of a Jesus Freak. Though we did not intend for this to happen, it was a fantastic time of witnessing and it was like the old days, and I mean the late 1960s and I was reminded that the real thrill and adventure of the Christian life is doing what Jesus said to do — proclaim the Gospel to all. In a way I am failing you if I do not encourage you to be a witness. Yes indeed, there is a genuine fear factor involved, the fear of rejection or humiliation. I mean, what if you run into someone you know.  These issues are soon overcome however. Now, I do not want to make anyone feel bad, and I certainly intend to go about the neighborhood by myself, even without Katie, because I think one person knocking on the door is less intimidating, but I must say that we are all called to tell others about Jesus and this is the best time of year to do so.

For some reason, I have been lately energized to reach out to Muslim people. I am past the point where I am concerned and worried about the Islamists and terrorists, that is real concern certainly, but more than that I have been given a heart to reach out to these poor people who have been captivated by a demonically oriented religion. And they are helpless to get out,  the vast majority of them, though some do leave Islam and at at price. In January, actually the 17th and 31st, Saturdays, from 10am to noon, we will be studying Islam. But, you must let me know so I can order the proper number of books. Already there are five indicating they want to be involved and I have already started feeding them some books. And guaranteed, this will change your life. Hey, you know what, us old preachers, we just never give up. We still have a reason to get up every day and go to the work. And who knows how much time we have left.

Now Christmas — for me and so many this special time of the year is a mixed bag. I love it really, the tunes go through my head, those lovely hymns I have known so long and which get richer in meaning as the years roll on; yet there is a certain melancholy for me right in the middle of it, and sometimes to the point I am merely hoping to get through till January in one piece. Long ago I stopped trying to be a cheer leader, jumping up and down and waving pom poms about how happy we all ought to be. After all, we are not children anymore. I prefer our low key celebrating of the season at MAC with our focus on the great traditions of Christmas and the core meaning of Christmas. And we spend a considerable amount of time together, in table fellowship especially.

This will be my seventy-second Christmas. It has been a good run and by God’s grace there may be some more. My dear friends, a most merry Christmas to you all.

 

Clearing up errors I made in last post

Dear Friends, I made 2 errors in the post I submitted yesterday.

 One, the actual URL is:

http://www.evpbooks.com/Deliver-Us-from-Evil-How-Jesus-Casts-Out-Demons-Today-PB-14.htm

 Two, the 20% discount is friendofEVP. Before the evp was not capitalized as it should be.

 Then, we discovered that the postage was not right either, so in a short time today it will be reduced. Sorry for the error.

 Kent

Deliver us from Evil: How Jesus Casts Out Demons Today

8 years ago I was asked to write a book about a subject I had engaged in for several decades, a ministry that I wish would simply go away. However, it looks like it has come back around. I am talking about casting demons out of people possessed by them.

In the early 1970s I did a master’s thesis titled, A Manual of Demonology and the Occult. Zondervan Publishing did just that, they published it and for many years people came from all over this country, and foreign countries to have demons cast out of them.

My college background is psychology and my career goal was to be a high school counselor. Oh well, right at the very end of a MA in psych at Sacramento State I bailed and enrolled at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, CA.. I was shocked to find that the professors took demons realistically, but I did not. My training helped me think that what Jesus encountered was mental illness. I clung to that until it became impossible to do so.

Then after ten years of continual ministry to those who had demonic spirits, the ministry slowly dissolved due to lack of people wanting it. Over the years there have been some seeking deliverance, but now it is heating up again.

Now then the second edition, and an expanded edition by 30%, and a name change, we have 92 pages of how to deal with those who are seeking relief from the horrors of demonic spirits.

Essentially it is a rather simple working that most Christians can engage in. This new edition will help with that and that is my goal. Here are the chapter headings:

Jesus Casts Out demons

Jesus’ Disciples Cast Out Demons

Casting Out Demons After the New Testament Era

A Theology of the demonic

How People are Indwelt by Demons

Can Christians have demons?

How to Cast Out Demons

Hearing Voices

More on How to Become Possessed by Demons

After Care

Epilogue

There you have it. If you go to http://www.evpbooks.com/Deliver-Us-from-Evil-How-Jesus-Casts-Out-Demons-Today

and type in friendofevp you will receive a 20% discount, and my recollection is the book is selling for $8.95.

The Third Heaven

The Third Heaven

 

Paul once said that he went to the third heaven: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.”

 “And I know that this man was caught up into paradise — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses” (2 Corinthians 12:2-5).

      Most commentators think 2 Corinthians was written in AD 55-57. So this vision occurred 14 years earlier, around the time of Paul”s second visit to Jerusalem and before his first missionary journey.

 Visions

 This experience may have been, it is speculated, Paul”s third vision. His visions can be listed as follows: the glorified Christ on the day of his conversion (Acts 9:3; 22:6); Ananias coming to him (Acts 9:12); the Lord showing that he would minister to the Gentiles (Acts 22:17);

      Paul”s call to Macedonia (Acts 16:9); encouragement in Corinth (Acts 18:9-10); after arrest in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11); during a storm at sea (Acts 27:23); and insight into the mysteries of Christ (Ephesians 3:1-6).

      It is likely this mention was the first Paul ever made about being into the third heaven, and he only did so because detractors in the Corinthian church were challenging his status as an apostle and thereby attempting to downgrade his teaching.

      These critics elevated themselves by claiming supernatural knowledge obtained by means of dreams and visions. For millennia shamans had claimed direct encounters with supernatural entities and this tradition was alive and well in the Graeco-Roman world. It is alive and well in our own day too.

      Reluctantly, Paul describes a vision he had, in order to assert his status as a true apostle of Christ. He did not employ typical shamanistic language, however; nor did he use such trance-inducing techniques as meditation, mind altering substances, dancing or physical deprivation.

 Third heaven

 Paul had been to the “third heaven” — surely a way of describing the real presence of the transcendent God. He humbly refers to himself in the third person, as being “caught up” there.

      Paul”s experience came to him in much the same way as John”s on Patmos. He did not seek it; there was no “soul journey”, no mediumistic trance and no paganistic transportation facilitated by spirit guides. Without warning, he was suddenly seeing that which later he would not speak of, even if he were able. He simply did not know whether he was in the body or out of the body.

      Also, “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter”. Commentators suggest four possible meanings for this puzzling statement. First, he was warned not to speak of what he had seen; second, he could not find suitable words to describe it; third, it would have done harm to do so; or fourth, to reveal the vision would make it seem as though he had lost his mind. Whatever the meaning, Paul never revealed anything other than the fact of his vision.

      In complete contrast, Kat Kerr, a 60-year-old woman living in Florida (and sporting pinkish hair dyed, she insists, “in obedience” to God” command), has written a bookentitled Revealing heaven: an eyewitness account. In it she reports on her direct encounters, her visits and conversations with “the Father” in heaven”s “throne room”.

      Kerr is radically different from Paul in that there is no hesitancy on her part; she freely talks about what she sees and hears. It is apparent that her mission is to communicate what she has experienced in her visits to the “throne room”.

      On one occasion the Father escorted her via time travel to the very occasion when Jesus was crucified; she says she was right there at the cross of Calvary. Not only that, she was there at the resurrection. Not even the shamans have been as brazen as that!

 Apology

 As with the psychics and mediums of spiritism, she also “visits” deceased loved ones, in order to bring back reports to the bereaved on their status. Always she reports that the departed are safe in heaven, much to the bereaved’s comfort. In one instance, according to her testimony, a person who had lost a loved one was surprised to hear of the deceased person being in heaven at all!

      She reports that every human being has at least one guardian angel from the moment of conception. These angels go with believers along the road of life and at death accompany them all the way to heaven. Sometimes, however, Jesus personally does the work of escorting to heaven, at least for those who have been especially faithful.

      She has learned that, if a person does bad things while on earth, the guardian angel is owed an apology upon arrival in heaven!

      Kat Kerr recounts her own conversion experience when aged four, then again aged five when she prayed “the sinner’s prayer” just to be sure. She is of a Pentecostal persuasion and her rapidly growing audience is primarily among Charismatics and Pentecostals.

      It is not necessary to continue detailing the incredible things Kerr reports about her frequent visits to heaven; these can be garnered by visiting YouTube.

      One either accepts what she says is true or disagrees and objects. In the latter circumstance, it is tantamount to declaring her a false prophet. The Old Testament penalty for false prophecy was stoning, although the New Testament settles for rejecting the message.

 Spiritism

 There are further dangerous aspects to Kat Kerr”s ministry. First, acceptance of it opens the door to connection with spiritism and shamanism, for this is essentially what she is up to.

      We do not find mention in the New Testament of congregations developing such connections. The experiences of Paul and John were exceptional and were not in any way the same as Kerr”s.

      Second, there is a mind bending process going on. People have to suspend scepticism in order to accept the often-bizarre nature of what she proclaims.

      Third, Kerr reveals a not-so-subtle expectation that others could or should be doing what she herself is doing. You too can visit heaven and talk with the Father; and here”s how — so why don”t you? Christians will be moved along a slippery slope into the occult realm.

      Fourth, those critical in their analysis are likely to be regarded as blaspheming the Spirit or rejecting what God is doing in “these last days”.

      Paul does not state that he spoke with any person within the Godhead in the third heaven; Kat Kerr, on the other hand, does. Her picture of the Father is akin to a description of conversation with a human friend. I think that this is exactly the relationship Kerr intends to convey — that she has such an exalted status that she is able to be in the very presence of God and talk directly with him just as Adam and Eve spoke with the Creator God in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.

      But Paul speaks of God”s utter transcendence: “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:15-16).

      It is true that the Spirit indwells all born again Christians and, through Christ, they have access to the Father in prayer. The Scripture also affirms that we rest in the finished work of Christ and cease from our efforts of trying save ourselves.

      But that does not mean we treat God as just another friend or buddy. Kerr ignores the historical Christian understanding of God”s otherness and claims to have been repeatedly in his presence as though she were nearly his equal. This cannot be accepted or ignored.

 False prophets

 Kat Kerr is not the first to claim conscious contact with heavenly beings. One thinks of Muhammad, Joseph Smith, David Berg of the Children of God, Sung Myung Moon and countless others.

      The claiming of special revelation is standard fare in the spiritual market place. There are others too today currently claiming familiar heavenly conversations with the angels, Jesus and the Father.

      We must recognize that not everyone who claims spiritual experiences has to be accepted and believed. In the last days there will be false signs and wonders performed through the power of Satan; and deceptive attacks and demonic tricks are often played out within the Christian community.

      We are to “watch and pray”, as Jesus told his disciples that last night in Gethsemane. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).