Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Essential Christian Doctrine

The importance of essential Christian doctrine simply can't be overstated. These are the doctrines that form the line of demarcation between the Kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the cults. As believers, we can debate nonessentials without dividing over them, but there has to be unity when it comes to essential Christian doctrine. Hence the maxim that I repeat over and over again on the broadcast: in essentials, unity, in nonessentials, liberty and in all things, charity.

Not only so, but essential Christian doctrine is the North Star that sets the course for Christianity. Just as the North Star is an unchanging reference point that sailors use to safely guide their ships, essential Christian doctrine has safely guided the church through doctrinal storms that have sought to sink it. Shooting stars can light the sky for a moment, but following them inevitably leads to shipwreck.

Essential Christian doctrine is also the foundation on which the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ rests. From His Deity to the certainty that He's going to appear a second time to judge the living and the dead, essential Christian doctrine is foundational to the Gospel. All other religions compromise, confuse or contradict essential Christian doctrine.

Muslims, for example, dogmatically denounce the doctrine of Christ's unique Deity as the unforgiveable sin of Shirk. They readily affirm the sinlessness of Christ but adamantly deny His sacrifice upon the cross and His subsequent resurrection on the only hope of salvation.

We are so passionate about essential Christian doctrine at the Christian Research Institute that we have spent a good deal of time in the present issue of the Christian Research Journal dealing with essential Christian doctrine because doctrine is under attack - not only particular doctrines like the resurrection or the incarnation or the Trinity, but the very idea of doctrine itself is considered today to be antiquated, irrelevant and downright divisive.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Zen Buddhism

We deal at the Christian Research Institute and through the Bible Answer Man broadcast with so many world religions and offshoots of those world religions, as well as cults, and aberrant Christian theology. The reason is to make you so familiar with the truth that when counterfeits loom on the horizon you know it instantaneously.

One of those counterfeits, Zen Buddhism, didn't catch on in the West until the 1950s, but it has now virtually cornered the meditation marketplace. Phil Jackson even used Zen to prepare his teams to win nine NBA championships. Because of its growing popularity I've done some things, as I typically do, to make things memorable for you. I've developed the acronym Z-E-N to help you understand Zen Buddhism.

The dominant discipline of Zen Buddhism is zazen. It's literally "sitting in meditation." Zenists seek to stamp out the self and become one with the impersonal, cosmic consciousness of the universe - the only mind, as they see it. They employ postures and breathing techniques and chants in an attempt to free the mind from meaningful thought and to achieve a state of absolute emptiness.

The stated objective of Zen is enlightenment, the E in the acronym. This is the inner perception that all of reality is one and duality is an unenlightened illusion. Enlightenment is said to be the key to extinguishing individual identity and it becomes for them the doorway to nirvana, to being blown out. As we say in golf, be the ball.

Then there's the N. I think it's always instructive to note their nonsensical riddles. The N, nonsensical riddles, or koans are called to attack reason or logic, and the purpose is to achieve the alternate reality that the universe is an interdependent whole and that each individual is that whole - be the ball. Zen literally utilizes hundreds of nonsensical riddles to dismantle the mind. The most famous you might be familiar with is "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" And you ponder that and ponder that and ponder that and you achieve this alternate reality.

In sharp distinction to Zen, biblical meditation seeks to center oneself on the personal Creator of the universe, and it does so through a singular focus on Scripture. Far from emptying the mind, Christians are called to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and then use our minds to tell the Zen Buddhist the difference between biblical meditation and Zen meditation, because it's a difference with a transforming reality. It's a difference with an unbelievable distinction, and to make that difference can make all the difference in the world for the Zen Buddhists, so that they can meditate on those things that really matter and see biblical meditation as the solution to satisfaction and joy - not only in this life, but in the life to come as well.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Generational Curses

Just a few words about generational curses based on text taken out of context and used as pretexts.

It's becoming increasingly common for Christians to suppose that they're victims of generational curses. They suppose they've inherited demons ranging from anger to alcoholism, from laziness to lust. If you look closer at Scripture you will find that this notion of generational curses is seriously flawed.

To begin with, Scripture clearly communicates that consequences, not curses, are passed on through the generations. It's in this sense that the Bible says that children are punished for the sins of their fathers to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 20:5). The children of an alcoholic father would frequently suffer neglect and abuse as a direct consequence of their father's sinful behavior. The descendents of those who hate God are more likely to follow in the footsteps of their fathers.

But Scripture explicitly tells us that the son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son (Ezekiel 18:20). In fact, when ancient Israel would quote the proverb "The fathers eat sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge" God responded in no uncertain terms, "As surely as I live, declares the sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. The soul who sins is the one who will die" (Ezekiel 18:1-3).

One other point. While the notion of generational curses is foreign to Scripture, there is a sense in which the curse of sin has been passed on from generation to generation. Through the first Adam we've all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, atonement is offered to everyone. That's why the apostle Paul says "Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men" (Romans 5:18). Through no act of our own we're condemned. Likewise, through no act of our own we are saved.

I think it's important for everyone who thinks that generational curses are possibly biblical to spend some time in Ezekiel 18 where God goes at the same issue from different vantage points for an entire chapter. I think if you read through that chapter, if you ponder and meditate on that chapter, you will no longer be deluded by those in the church today who are teaching people that generational curses are a reality. The concept simply flies in the face of Scripture. The fact that popular men like Joel Osteen are purveying this absurd notion on television and in print should not delude anyone into thinking that generational curses are a reality.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Mormons are not the only non-Christian cult. There are Jehovah's Witnesses who believe that Christianity died with the last of the apostles. They believe that Christianity was not resurrected until their founder, Charles Taze Russell, began organizing the Watchtower Society in the 1870s.

In their view the cross is a pagan symbol adopted by an apostate church and salvation is impossible apart from the Watchtower organization.

While the Witnesses on your doorstep consider themselves to be the only authentic expression of Christianity, the Society they serve compromises, confuses or outright contradicts essential Christian doctrine.

They teach their devotees that the Trinity is a freakish-looking three-headed god invented by Satan and that Jesus is merely "a" god. In Watchtower theology Jesus was created by God as the archangel Michael, that during His earthly sojourn He was merely human, and then after His crucifixion He recreated an immaterial spirit creature.

They also deny the physical resurrection of Jesus. In fact, according to Russell the body that hung on a "torture stake" either dissolved into gases or is preserved somewhere as a grand memorial of God's love.

Well, Watchtower adherents are often willing to do more for a lie than Christians are willing to do for the truth. These and a host of other doctrinal perversions keep Jehovah's Witnesses from rightly being considered Christian. We need to be able to use those deviations as springboards or opportunities for sharing the truth and love and grace that only come with a relationship with the real Jesus and the real Gospel, which is a Gospel, not by works, but by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. We are not saved by what we do. We are saved unto good works. The Gospel is free - however, it will cost us our life. We take up our cross and daily follow the Lord.