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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Signs of the Times?

After relating in last week's blog on how I got involved with the Children of God (COG) a cult started by its founder, David Berg at Huntington Beach in California, I had time to sit down and think: What has happened within the last half century in our human history? What is it about these sects, cults and splinter groups growing and flourishing? And furthermore, the style of spiritual songs written over the years, right up to the present day. I write this with the idea that some of today's songs we sing at our church service don't hold a candle to the greatest hymns written a couple hundred years ago, and still well known today.
A faith rooted in the Bible is a safeguard against heresy, or more important, a psychological brainwashing technique used by the Children of God to convince recruits that they were the people really practising and preaching what the early church did as recorded in the book of Acts, with testimonies of instant healing and freedom from drug addiction and other vices which enslaved the hippies Berg went to convert and recruit. In my last blog I told of the result of a conversation I had with a fully fledged member of COG at Bromley. He convinced me of a "two-tier salvation" - a term I made up myself to describe the eternal life given by God to every believer, but entry into the New Jerusalem described in the last two chapters of Revelation to be reserved for only those who forsook all, took up his cross and followed Jesus and shared everything in common - another way of saying to hand over everything the recruit owned, including all his bank balances, to the leaders of the commune and to live permanently in the colony, as it was called, totally regardless of the recruit's family and their suffering over their loss of a son or daughter, brother of sister, even husband or wife and children, to whom the recruit was forbidden to contact.
But one item I should have mentioned in my last blog about COG, and that of the Bible story of Ananias and Sapphira of Acts 5. Moses David had used this text to scare the recruit into giving everything to the movement, and not hold anything back, like this ancient couple did and paid with their lives. This sort of brainwashing scaremongering had a profound effect on me for many years, long after renouncing all their ways. First I believed that because I felt concern for my parent's welfare and decided to return home the next day, that I proved unfit for the Kingdom of God, according to Moses Berg's writings. Secondly, as Moses hinted, reluctance to join the group full time may be grounds to question whether I was really saved, using the couple's death as an example for my own destruction. In other words, the concept of a two-tier salvation may not have been universally accepted throughout the whole movement.

Moses David Berg - died October 1994.
All of this took place in December/January 1972/3, when I had absolutely no knowledge of the Bible. Therefore having no safeguards against such brainwashing fodder, I was extremely vulnerable. Obviously I believed everything they said to me as direct from God, and all their writings, particularly Mo Letters, as divinely inspired. Later I learned that every member of COG regarded all David Berg's writings as of equal authority as the Scriptures themselves and must be read as equal footing with the Bible.

And that's the danger with most, if not all of these cults, whatever they were. Since December 1972 I began to get familiar with various verses in the Bible and my knowledge of the Bible began to grow properly since summer of 1973, after renouncing COG and joining St. Judes Anglican Church in Brixton, South London. By summer of 1978 while packpacking across the USA, my familiarity of the Bible proved to have been a good stead.

It happened while I was in Los Angeles, after spending several days in its Downtown district and from there visiting Disneyland, Hollywood Studios and Long Beach, I was preparing for the next leg of the Greyhound Bus journey to San Francisco. That evening I was approached by two young women who showed a keen interest in me. Believe me, for a young male solo backpacker to be made to feel loved and important by two members of the opposite gender was very soul-lifting! But this was their psychological trick. These two women asked why not come with them to a talk given by a member of the Unification Church.

Unification Church? Ah! Sounds good. Christian stuff. I was happy to attend the talk. Gosh, one would think that after my experience with COG, I'll be weary of those approaching me on the street. But once bitten twice shy did not seem to have had an affect on me back then, as I entered this building in Downtown L.A. and upstairs to a large room where people, again of my own age, were to listen to a lecture delivered by one of the church elders, a thin weasly man with a goatee.

I did not find his talk that edifying and afterwards I was invited to attend a retreat, at a mansion out in the Californian countryside with, if I recall, spectacular mountain views. It was presented as a kind of holiday or vacation and a chance to get to know the Church and its people a lot better. But feeling reserved, I approached the speaker, after the lecture had ended, and asked,
"What is Jesus Christ to you? Do you see him as Lord and Saviour?"
The fellow hesitated and failed to deliver the answer I was waiting for. Then, instead of going to this retreat with the rest of the group, he asked me if I would leave. I did, in good time to board the Greyhound bus to San Francisco, to where I would have arrived by dawn the next morning.

What if I had gone to the retreat? Rather than a place of rest and vacation, it was more of a prison fortress where I would have gone through severe indoctrination. At every single moment, toilet included, I would have been accompanied by an older mentor, who would have watched every move I made, everything I said, and followed me everywhere I went. I would have been assigned duties, and received indoctrination that the Second Coming of Christ was about to happen - no, not Jesus Christ, because he failed in his mission to marry a perfect wife and father perfect children. Rather, the Messiah referred to here was Sun Myang Moon, the cult's founder who was born in North Korea, and received a call from God to enter the United States in 1972 to set up colonies there.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Despite their different beliefs, Moon and Berg would have made good companions! Or maybe not. While Moses David thought that America was doomed and therefore left the land, Exodus-style to settle in the UK, and then the rest of the world, Moon was fiercly patriotic for America, gave full support for President Nixon, believed in Capitalism and he was very anti-Communist. My simple knowlege of the Bible had actually spared me from such a horrible experience with a cult whose founder had mixed Christianity with Taoism and with the occult in general.

As throughout this week I allowed my memories of such experiences fill my mind, I was wondering why did these groups spring up? Was it really religious conviction? Or was it more of rebellion from society? One of the advantages of being self-employed is that if I need to, I can down tools for a moment and meditate, or think seriously.

I was around in 1963 during the Cuba crisis. The invasion into this island by Communist Fidel Castro, just ninety miles off the tip of the American state of Florida, brought the USA to a brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Only a last minute agreement between the two nations averted what would have been a global catastrophe, wiping out much of the world's population. Meanwhile the Vietnam war in the Far East was ongoing since 1955 and didn't end until 1975, with the American miltary losing to the Communist forces.

I but personally believe that the Cuba crisis shook the very foundation of American society. Many of the young people were disillusioned with the Protestant Work Ethic, where they saw themselves as a mere cog in the system of work, war and the machine society, for the want of  the alternate society of love, peace and music, as they sought for an in-depth, spiritual experience.

Drugs also played a role in their lifestyles as they dropped put of mainstream society. The hippie movement also made an influence on the current pop music. One of my favourites is Barry McGuire's top chart hit, Eve of Destruction, released in 1965, and it was a hippie protest about not only the Cuba crisis, but the Vietnam war and world conflict in general. The song, Eve of Destruction coined up the phrase "Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall fry." In 1969 one of the first hippie rock festivals took place at Yasgurs' Farm, New York from August 15th-18th, and it was the forerunner to many rock festivals held to this day. Known as Woodstock, here hippies gathered to revel in love, peace and music. Woodstock itself became a song written in various versions, although the lyrics remained constant, different tunes were applied. Finally a version of Woodstock written and sung by the band, Matthew's Southern Comfort made it into the pop charts in 1969. One verse of the song I have found moving:
By the time I got to Woodstock
They were half a million strong.
Everywhere there were songs and celebrations.
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation.

If only I was a few years older! How I would have loved to have dropped out of mainstream English society and head for Woodstock and remain there, or travel with the rest of the hippies to California. This would have been a lifestyle much preferred over the disciplined, militaristic, imperial, class-conscious and worst of all, hypocritical society I grew up in! The fact I sport long hair to this day was the result of this cultural rebellion.
After I was converted to Jesus Christ as Saviour, I could not help but notice - and bought - Christian music which had a strong correlation with the hippie movement. One such example was Come Together - in Jesus' Name, a recording composed of songs written and performed by Jimmy and Carol Owens, and released in 1973. These songs appealed to those like myself who linked organised religion with the work ethic, like the staff at school - and found so offputting. Then one Sunday evening in 1974 I attended a Come Together concert held at a South London venue, and to me it wasn't too different from Woodstock or any other rock concert, except with a possible veneer of middle-class and drug-free atmosphere.
Over the decades, I found that Christian music played with guitar and drums gradually replaced the traditional organ, but there were some good songs sung as well as the naff. Meanwhile, in the pop world, the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood released their single which hit the charts: Two Tribes, which peaked in 1983. The song was a direct reflection of the 1963 Cuba crisis, and the theme was centered on the USA and the Soviet Union engaged in a nuclear fallout which wiped out the entire world population. Whether there was any connection with this song or not, however, the leaders of the two great nations, Ronald Reagan and Mikail Gorbachev, signed the I.N.F. nuclear disarmanent treaty in 1987, lifting the global threat of self-extinction. The event was broadcast live on the BBC news which I remember watching.
And what of Christian music today? Only this morning, we sung one of the dullest songs I have ever heard in the fellowship. Practically tuneless, the lyrics held  no edifying or adorational power. Perhaps I thought I was being carnal. Until I looked around the congregation. When such powerful songs such as God be the Glory brings everyone standing up with their hands raised to the air, however, during this tasteless dirge, the majority in our congregation were seated, looking blankly ahead. As I remained standing I tried with some difficulty to offer my contribution, but I struggled with it. Other recently written songs such as I am richer than a king, seem to me to be man-centred. For example, I am richer than a king, my soul is well, and from another song, let the rain fall on us. To be honest, during this last week, I have wondered whether these modern songs are a reflection of our times.
And what is our times? With the threat of a nuclear fallout lifted and the decline of the hippie sub-culture as a result, it looks to me that the quest for higher education and professional careers have rocketed during the last two decades. As just about every modern Christian songwriter is middle class, well educated, earns a good income sitting all day at an office desk, and generally satisfied with himself, little wonder that our songs reflect this attitude. I am richer than a king, my soul is well, brings out this sense of self confidence very accurately.
I am aware that many of you readers have never heard of these songs, let alone sing them. But I wouldn't be too surprised that there are many more of the same kind that are going about which we have never heard of either. But one piece of Scripture may be worth some consideration:
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. 1 Corinthians 10:12.
With the tremendous goodness of God who has mercy for every believer of all nationalities, academic levels and social classes, maybe such a Scripture is worth a thought.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

1973 And All That...

As a teenager I insisted to both myself and others around that I was an atheist. But I had wondered - was I really convinced that God never existed? Or to be more honest with myself, I was angry with a God who always demanded that I perform, perform, perform - or it's Hell. While at secondary school between 1964 and 1968, we as pupils were terrified of the cane-wielding Deputy Head, who nearly every morning called a pupil into his office for an offence such as talking, even briefly, during pre-lesson assembly. Furthermore I was particularly weary of the slipper-wielding P.E. master, Mr Kinch, nicknamed "Kipper" by us students, a combination of his name and his instrument of corporal punishment. These two men were visible representations of the invisible God who they, with the rest of the staff, worshipped every morning and whose judgement I would have to stand before sometime in the future. Little wonder too, that there were quite a number of boys of my age who took the same atheistic stance as I did.

Yet Jesus Christ was one person I wanted to know when I was younger, in my primary school days. The very thought of not only loving me but giving me attention was something I so aspired to. Instead, by 1968, the year I left school to go straight into the world of work, I made sure that religion was one thing I would put behind me for the rest of my life.
Also in 1968, some six thousand miles away, two ministers were co-operating to lead a Pentecostal Church in California. One of the ministers, Fred Jordan, was an aggressive Pentecostal evangelist, while the other, David Berg, in his early fifties, was his assistant until sometime in that year their relationship deteriorated until a bust-up caused these two guys to separate, with David Berg opening a coffee shop at Huntington Beach, home to the hippie community.
Many of these hippies were converted to Jesus Christ and accepted Berg as not only their leader but also a prophet. As the group grew in size, there were reports of instant healing among the hippies from their drug addiction, a miraculous plank which became the attraction for more converts. Berg encouraged his followers to "forsake all and follow Jesus" and live together in communes, better known as colonies. One prize convert to this movement was Jeremy Spencer, one of the founders of the pop band Fleetwood Mac. As he was already becoming disillusioned with the band, two of Berg's followers stopped Spencer while he was browsing at the Hollywood Boulevard. The rock musician concluded that it was Jesus he was looking for, and followed the two witnesses back to their local colony as a full fledged member. He is still a member of the movement to this day.
Jeremy Spencer
Berg established colonies in various cities throughout the United States, and this group became officially named the Children of God, sometimes shortened to COG. In 1971, Don McLean released his greatest hit, Bye bye Miss American Pie, a song dedicated to the death of rock singer Buddy Holly in a 'plane crash during the early hours of February 3rd, 1959 aged just 22. The theme of the song was the day the music died and America had lost its innocence on that day as well. Miss American Pie gave Berg the vision and the inspiration from God that the United States was about to undergo judgement, and Berg had to lead his group out of "Egypt" to settle in the "Promised land."
Buddy Holly - The day the music died, 1959 aged only 22.
So in 1971, Berg closed most of his colonies across the United States and he, along with his grown-up daughter and the closest of his followers flew to London, and established his main colony at a disused jam factory just a couple of blocks away from Bromley North Terminus Station. It was from this "exodus" that Berg acquired the name "Moses" and was hence known as Moses David, or Mo for short. From the factory colony, members fanned out into the streets of Central London, looking out for those who are alone, dejected or lacking in any direction. To these people the Children start witnessing to them with the intent of bringing them back to the colony as full time recruits, then known as "Babes in Christ."
1971 was also the year I had my first girlfriend, and we were together well into 1972. But one day during that year, I was dumped, and the months to follow I felt lost and without direction. During the autumn of 1972, by reading various tracts given out particularly at Trafalgar Square, I began to realise that there is a God, and my sins and weaknesses stood between him and myself. I had just turned twenty and my days of atheism were over. But during this state in life, perhaps doing more good works to cancel out my shortcomings may strike a deal with God. After all, that was the Roman Catholic sacrament of Penance was all about, in which I grew up in.
On this lone December evening, it was raining as I walked dejected along the Strand, my long hair hanging like a drowned rat. I had just been refused admission into a nearby ballroom, in those days, operated by Mecca Dancing, with the hope of finding a potential future girlfriend. As I got close to Charing Cross Station, I was stopped by these two young men who asked me what I thought about Jesus Christ, to me an incredible odd question to ask a stranger in the street. At first I resisted them, but eventually my loneliness caused me to relent, and I invited them into a pub across the street, where it would be warm and dry. Once inside, I bought three drinks, one for us each, and once sat down, one of them took out a Bible, and turned to the Gospel of John, and also to Revelation 3:20, and there and then bidded me to ask Jesus Christ into my heart, which I did.
I was then shown photographs of "the Family" as they referred, and eventually I agreed to take them back to Bromley, paying their train tickets for them as for myself. This was part of their mission: not to take anything of their own but to trust entirely on Jesus to meet all their needs, as recorded in Matthew 10:9-10. As I sat with them in the train as it pulled out of Charing Cross Station, I actually believed that being refused entry into the ballroom that evening was an act of God to bring me into contact with the Children - men and women of my own age and therefore perfectly compatible with each other. 
After arriving back to the factory, we passed what was the reception, through the deserted shop floor, empty of all the machinery which made and packaged the jam. Through an alleyway which led to a large room, possibly the old canteen, with tables, chairs and a carpeted floor. At one corner, a couple of hippies were lying on the floor, deep in sleep. The walls of the room were decorated with painted murals, making the canteen look more like a nursery. One mural was of the Pied Piper leading children as he played his flute. A warning, perhaps?
We had some refreshment, which was followed by a time of praise and worship to Jesus Christ. I was almost flabbergasted! Instead of the organ, guitars were strummed, and instead of the dirge of Roman Catholic liturgy, we all raised our hands in genuine admiration.

After this, it was agreed that I can "crash for the night." Among others, a mat was placed on the floor along a row of mats on which each member slept. As the lights went out, I couldn't help think back to the events in the last few hours. At the pub I was shown various verses of Scripture from the Gospel of John, and attention was given to Revelation 3:20 - about Jesus inviting members of the church in Laodicea to come in to their midst and dine with them. According to them, that evening I became "a babe in Christ" and for that matter, learned about Eternal Security of the Believer for the first time in my life, as the Children of God were firm believers in this, unlike any other cult. Yet little did I know, that while I was lying on the floor mat looking up into the darkened factory canteen, the leader, Moses David, away from the colony, was having a incestuous relationship with his own daughter! It was something I'll not know about until many years later.

Next morning, after breakfast, while the rest were getting ready for the day, I decided to leave and go home. This was against COG's policy, as I was earmarked to be a recruit of the Children. But living at home with my parents brought many problems with the idea of recruitment. Sure, my parents were used to me staying out overnight at weekends. I had several sleepovers at my girlfriend's home. In addition, there were a number of times I missed the last train or bus back to my home town, after a night at a dance hall, and I spent the night walking across London, for example, from Hammersmith to Waterloo before boarding the first train out on a Sunday morning.
But failure to arrive home the next day, or several days for that matter, could have put my parents on alert, perhaps on the Missing Person's list or even calling the Police. Yet back in those days it was very common for young men and women to fly the nest, find work and accommodation, normally several people sharing a tenement. Had I been one of those people, allowing myself to remain at the colony and be recruited would have been straightforward. Therefore, through reading their many pieces of literature, including their well known Mo Letters, I found myself to have been in the same boat as the rich ruler who walked away sad, after being challenged by Jesus to sell everything, give the money to the poor and follow him, and he would have had treasure in Heaven.

However, I did make trips to Bromley after Christmas 1972, and in January 1973 I saw the outside of the factory in broad daylight for the first time. Across the front was a large plaque bearing the words of John 3:16, and a much smaller sign over the door were the words "Children of God" in different coloured lettering, as if about to enter a nursery school. It was then that I learned the creed of this particular cult.

They firmly believed that America and all its churches were about to be destroyed by God, and they were led, Exodus style, into the UK for their own survival. They were absolutely against all churches as being part of the capitalist system, as they called it. Instead they wanted to practise and preach exactly what Jesus taught in the Gospels and live out the book of Acts, particularly Acts 2:44-47 where every recruit forsook all, handed everything he owned, including the contents of his bank account, and lay them at the feet of the COG leaders. They insisted that only the Authorised Version (KJV) of the Bible was valid, all other translations were inaccurate. It was later that I found out why this was so.

The validity of the Authorised Version was based on just one Old Testament verse - Hosea 8:14, which read:
For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and shall devour the palaces thereof.
Moses David saw these "temples" built by apostate Israel as the thousands of churches built across America, an antagonism he bore as a direct result of his dispute with Fred Jordan. All his followers carried forth this dispute, subconsciously spreading it as they went out into the streets to witness. I too became infected and began to dislike all churches as believing that this was part of God's will for my life. This also had a close link with Don McLean's song American Pie, which Berg saw as divine revelation to exodus from the States, as God was about to send a fire upon that land and devour all its "temples" and its wealth.

The fact that all other versions translate "temples" as "palaces" indicate a rebuke to Israel for their obsession with wealth without giving consideration for God's goodness. It had nothing to do with worship - a small fact that would have blown a large hole in Mo's dispute and rob the cult of any justification for its existence.

Forsaking all was central to their practise. This including leaving behind all family members to join the commune. For example, Matthew 10 reads:
Think not that I have come to send peace on earth: I come not to send peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
And a man's foes shall be of his own household.
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth not after me, is not worthy of me. vs.34-38.
COG leaders had used this Scripture to justify their member's severance from their parents and the forbidding of contact, even by letter. Therefore because I felt concern for my parent's welfare on that December morning, I had failed the test and had the feeling that Jesus' verdict was, Not fit for the Kingdom of God.
Other Scriptures widely used in their publications included Luke 14:25-33:
And there were great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,
If any man came to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple...
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:33 was considered to be the most unpopular verse in the entire Bible, and Moses David made sure that this little fact was not overlooked. With this in mind, he got the whole of the colony to chant Acts 2:44-45 without reading the context:
And all that believed were together and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man has need.
At home, however, I would not allow Jesus Christ to leave my mind. Alone in my bedroom, in January 1973, I called upon him to save me, but I still felt that by not joining the commune when I had the chance, I have missed out on being in his Kingdom. Now one would suppose that there is a contradiction here? First I was told in the pub that I was saved from Hell and now have eternal life. Then next I was considered not worthy of his Kingdom. In fact, by having a long talk with one member over at Bromley, I found that salvation had two tiers, eternal life for all believers, and entry into the New Jerusalem, described in Revelation 21 and 22 being reserved for disciples only - those who had forsaken all to follow him. I was told plainly that although I will live, I will also be shut out from the heavenly New Jerusalem.
That revelation had a profound shock on me! As a result, I tried to join COG as a permanent member. Telling my parents, even reading Luke 14 to them, brought tears from my mother, who was aware of the Children of God movement. I too felt like crying. This was the exact fulfilment of what Jesus said in Matthew 10. I knew that I was not worthy of him. During Spring of 1973, I spent the day with them, and boarded their converted L.T. double-decker bus they had bought and spruced up.

By the Summer of 1973, the colony moved to an empty house at Portobello Road, at the Notting Hill area of West London. After spending two days and a night there, the colony leader, a burly Englishman who I had not seen before, booted me out with a verdict that I was not suited to this kind of life. My time with COG was about to end. However, a few weeks later, as they were handing out tracts (as opposed to aggressive witnessing as they did before,) they directed me to a colony recently set up at Railton Road, at a South London district of Brixton. So I took the tube train and alighted at Brixton Underground Station and it did not take me long to find Railton Road, a drab and run-down housing estate. As I was searching for the Children of God placard erected outside the house, yet I failed to find it, instead I spotted some young people milling about outside a primary school at the Herne Hill end of Railton Road, and I politely asked one if they were aware of the Children of God colony around here.
Instead I was invited into the school, in which what looks like a youth club was being held. On one free chair I was directed to, a magazine was lying about unread. On the front cover was a photo of two beautiful young women, one was saying to the other:
Psalm 89 is a prophecy about my father.
Underneath was a message, The truth about Moses David Berg and the Children of God movement.
The magazine here was the Christian magazine Buzz, published by the Church of England, and the group I found myself in were members of St. Judes Anglican Church, who were just as keen on Jesus Christ as COG members, but without the aggressive proselyting attitude. Instead they showed a far more genuine love than any of the Children of God members ever did, and they too believed in Eternal Security of the Believer.
Eventually I renounced all COG's activities, but I have kept up with some of their later activities, including Flirty Fishing. This is when female COG members demonstrating God's love by having sex with potential male recruits, to win them into the colonies.

Eventually, when these female COG members began to ask for donations for sex offered, it became prostitution all by name only.
After Moses David died in 1994, his wife took over as head of the cult. Its name was changed to The Family International, and Flirty Fishing was done away with, as attempts to clean up the organisation were made to carry on with passing on the message of Christ's love continues to this day.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Putting Myself On The Line

Last week I wrote, Lordship Salvation - Fact or Fallacy? and according to input by other bloggers on this site, I think my last blog could have been easily misunderstood. In one sense I could be one labelled as Easy Believism, a label which I'm prepared to accept. But as one who grew up as a Roman Catholic who turned atheist during my later teenage years, I was then converted to Christ in 1973 then aged twenty, and after this accepted Lordship Salvation as a way of Christian living, which dominated the 1980s and into the 1990s, I thought of writing this follow-up blog in a hope of clearing up any doubts, uncertainties or confusion which might have arisen among readers of last week's blog post. 
When my father was a boy, not long before the onset of World War II, he was sent for a time to be educated at an Italian Convent. On one occasion, he took Holy Communion without first making confession to the priest. When Mother Superior found out, she approached him and crashed her hand full force onto his cheek. Little wonder, after I was born, I grew up in a "hellfire" environment, a concept enforced by the Church itself in preparation for First Communion every Catholic child was obliged to take.
In those days I was aware of Jesus Christ, an exceptionally good man who did no wrong. That was why I wanted to know him, even as a boy. But what I craved was his love. Instead, an image of him constantly displeased with my attitude and behaviour led me, when I got older, to deny his existence.
It took many, many years to undo everything I learned and grew up in. But even to this day, rather than to say that I have arrived, it would be more honest to say that I'm still on my way there. One real eye-opener occurred when I attended a Baptist church in my home town around 1975 or '76. As we filed past the door steward, each of us were given a copy of the Baptist hymn book as we made our way to the main auditorium. By pure chance, I was given the large print copy, normally used by the pastor or elder. One of the hymns we sang that evening was To God Be The Glory, which contained this verse, followed by the chorus:
O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood;
To every believer the promise of God,
The vilest offender who truly believe,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Let the earth hear his voice.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son,
And give him the glory, great things he has done!
That evening I was shaken. Because of the large print copy, the verse carried an extra powerful punch. Written in 1872 by Frances Crosby, who had been totally blind since she was a baby, such lyrics were a reflection of her faith. Then the explosion of praise which followed. This is Christianity - a love-relationship between a believer and God his Saviour. It is God who does all the saving and all the keeping, and the believer revels in his free gift of salvation.

Frances Crosby
I have discovered by my own experience that Lordship Salvation hardly comes close to such explosive praise as the hymn narrates. As I wrote already last week, I had been involved with a small Pentecostal home group for about a month, which after I left, not being happy with the leader's theology, the structure of service and his intrusion into member's homes to check that there was no television in the house. This attitude, often known as heavy shepherding, I found offensive. I believe that the leader sensed my unease, and he let me go, unlike with the rest of the group which he had a strong hold over.
The group soon moved into a chapel near the town centre. For several years he led a growing congregation. Then one day the chapel was vandalised, with windows smashed. A special mesh was put up over the newly re-glazed windows. Shortly after, the leader disappeared as if off the face of the earth. He was never seen or heard of again, according to my knowledge.
This Pentecostal leader was a good example of Lordship Salvation. His theology included a fear of  loss of salvation, along with short hair for the men and compulsory head cover for the women, normally with a headscarf. Compulsory long hair for the females did not seem relevant, some of the women were middle aged and preferred their hair permed. It was during this time that I, for once, decided to have my hair cut to satisfy his wishes and, to my belief, pleasing to God.
But otherwise, since I was eighteen, I grew my hair long, and I have shoulder-length hair to this day. Perhaps this stemmed from the military attitude of my late Uncle, Dad's older brother. He was Warrant Officer in the Royal Air Force. He was very particular that, as a youth, I always wore shirt and tie all day, even at weekends, and insisted that I had short back-and-sides. Once, when he came to visit, he rebuked my parents for allowing my hair to grow by an inch. No doubt, Mum resented this, and stood up to defend both my younger brother and me. By the time I came of age, Uncle was powerless as he watched my hair grow long whenever he and his wife came to visit.
To this day, I feel comfortable with long hair. During the day I have it tied back as a ponytail. Like this, from the front I look as if my hair is short, as well as keeping it away from my eyes whilst at work or in the gym. Therefore, I did not like to be told to cut my hair, although I obeyed, if it meant pleasing God. He took this idea from Paul's letter to the Corinthians that it is against nature for men to have long hair. In a sense that is true. No way would long hair would have suited my Uncle, being chubby-faced as he was. Also with virtually no neck, a shirt and tie was best suited for him as well. 
But to read that a man sporting long hair is effeminate and shall not inherit the Kingdom of God, to me, is way out of order, but I believe that there is such a teaching in some groups, including Pentecostals. Do I have a dislike for the Pentecostal denomination or their churches? By no means. To me, every one who truly believes is born of God and is a member of God's family, regardless of group or denomination. But to read or being told that a man with long hair is effeminate, I find so irritable, and does not edify. As a matter of fact, when I had an assessment with a Psychologist some years ago, she commented on my "brutally masculine" character. On top of this, tradition has it that Jesus Christ had long hair. Being from tradition, of course, this can be disputed, and it has been too. But one Biblical character who did have long hair was none other than Samson, one of the judges of ancient Israel.

 Samson, with his long hair, might have looked like Jesus Christ, above.
Samson was a Nazarite, a special calling from God which required the head to remain unshaven and to refrain from anything of the grapevine. We tend to imagine Samson with huge, barrel-shaped biceps whose strength was the result of years in the gym. Rather, the very fact that the Philistines had to blackmail his wife Delilah on where he had gotten his strength indicates that as a person, he looked like any other man, except with long hair, as his call to be a Nazarite demanded. The word "Nazarite" means "Branch" and it was the same title applied to Jesus. In order to keep the whole Law, Jesus had to have been a Nazarite, which included having long hair and staying off alcohol. That is the reason why I think pictures of Jesus sporting long hair are valid.

So after reading about men with long hair being effeminate, I decided to look into where this idea came from. It turned out to be from the Authorised Version (KJV) of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which reads:

Know ye that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Puzzled, I turned to the Interlinear Greek/English New Testament to verify exactly what Paul had written here. In fact the Greek word malakoi, translated as effeminate, actually appears as voluptuous persons. With this, the picture changes. A voluptuous person is one who revels in luxury without giving any regard to God, let alone thanks. It had nothing to do with a guy wearing long hair! Yet such a bad translation was the cause of such demeaning messages put out both in writing and orally.

But there is more. Lordship Salvationists, along with groups which insist that salvation can be lost if unconfessed sin accumulate, often quote these two verses as proof text for their position - mainly that an erring believer is in danger of ending up in the fires of Hell. I have read of one British author and pastor teach exactly this, and his books have sold well in English churches and bookshops. Even in my own housegroup back in the 1990s, I was rebuked by other members for calling this chap a "false prophet." But in just about all cases, I have yet to come across the verse which immediately follows:

And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. v. 11.

That Paul wrote that we are washed, sanctified and justified speaks volumes. With washing in the blood of Jesus, I imagine a garment washed in soapy water. The solution penetrates between every fibre in the garment, extracting the very last speck of dirt. Then the garment is rinsed. This may explain why the modern washing machine has five rinse cycles. This is necessary to ensure that the last of the soap is removed. But with the garment, once worn over the body, it will start collecting dirt again. But to be washed in the blood of Jesus, the cleanliness is eternal. No dirt could ever pollute the soul again. This is backed by Paul's statement that we are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus. Another term for justification is judicial acquittal. It means that the whole of our sins are taken away and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to our account. Therefore God the Father see Jesus in us, not our own righteousness. Finally, sanctification means that we have been called by God to conform to the likeness of his Son. Since this take a lifetime, we are in effect, students - or disciples of the Kingdom of God.

So does the content of verse 11 contradict the content of verses 9 and 10? No, not at all, because these two verses were not referring to the believer as Lordship Salvationists thinks. To understand who Paul was referring to, we need to read the whole chapter, and it is one concerning believers taking their disputes to unbelieving judges, barristers and lawyers. Paul sharply rebukes these believers for not dealing with the dispute themselves. "What?" he protests, "you who are in Christ are taking your disagreements to unbelievers? Don't you know that the unrighteous cannot inherit the kingdom of God? Neither the fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, the voluptuous, sodomites, thieves, drunkards, revilers and such like, shall inherit the Kingdom of God. Yet some of you were as them. But you as believers, are washed by the blood, sanctified and justified in the name of Jesus. Yet you go to unbelievers who are unrighteous themselves to resolve your dispute? Are you out of your mind???" That was Paul addressing the unrighteous who cannot inherit the Kingdom. The unrighteous were the unbelieving judicial system of the day, and not the Christians! Paul finally hammers this home with the words:

And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power. v.14.

A positive, unconditional promise for all who are in Christ! Those believing in Lordship Salvation just seem to miss out on the joy of such a promise.

An Ancient Fountain, Corinth.

Also in his letter to the Romans, Paul talks a lot about Judicial Acquittal, or Justification by Faith, and he picks out Abraham as an example. In Genesis, God declared to Abraham that he will have a son, from whom his seed will bless many families. Abraham believed this revelation and God's righteousness was imputed to his account. There was no talk about "unconditional surrender to Christ" or "do not sin or else you will perish" or for that matter, "cut your hair and don't go about looking like a woman." No, instead God revealed to him something and by believing he was acquitted from all his sins.

Which leads me to a question which answer would put myself on the line:

Can we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
The answer is, Yes, we can!

But Paul did not write that in Romans 6:1. Instead he wrote:

Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?

That is a very different question, to which the obvious answer would be:

God forbid. How shall we, who are dead to sin, live any longer therein? v.2

I love the J.B. Phillips' version of Romans 6:2 as if Paul was a posh Englishman - "What a terrible thought!"

But then he asks the question: If we are dead to sin, then how can we continue in it? Dead to sin. That what Judicial Acquittal does, removes our sins as far away as east is from the west, and our iniquities he remembers no more. In other words, God no longer see our sins. Instead in us he sees Jesus Christ.

Yet, going back to 1 Corinthians 6, Paul wrote in verse 18:

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he who committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.

For Paul to instruct members of the church in Corinth to flee fornication seem to imply that there was evidence of it going around among the assembly. But there is no indication that any of them were in danger of losing salvation and threatened with Hell. Instead he instructs them to put away fornication, for it is a sin against the physical body, a temple of the Holy Spirit dwelling therein. I have a book written by Dr. McMillen, None of these Diseases, which tells very graphically of the agonising pains suffered by sexually transmitted diseases as being the end result of fornication. God certainly does not want members of his family to go through such dreadful experiences. Therefore, God disciplines his children whenever they go astray. But this discipline has two purposes and neither is a threat of Hell. The first reason for discipline was for their own good. The second was so they would partake in his holiness, the best way for any saint to experience full joy in the Lord.

My heart goes out to anyone who thinks Lordship Salvation is the only way to live the Christian life. But I do get angry with the "guys at the top" who constantly push such nonsense to their followers, depriving them of the fullness of the truth of the Gospel. They were the ones who underwent college training and passed graduation. Because of this, they are seen by their followers as always right, and us plebs who had never seen the inside of a university as hopelessly wrong and deceived. It is at this I at times would wish I could grab these leaders by the neck and shout, "GET YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER, YOU WHITED WALL!" - as Paul himself had done on one occasion, although he had to apologise afterwards! This is again putting myself on the line, but done for the glory of God. 

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Lordship Salvation - Fact Or Fallacy?

There was always that time of day Mary particularly feared. That was at the dinner table in the evening with her father, mother and her siblings. Thus the dinner table should have been the one place where the whole family gets together after a typical day, a time to chat and share how each member spent their time. Instead, Dad would often fly off the handle, banging his fist on the table so hard, that everything on it would jump into the air, and utter an expletive of angry words to any member of the family, but mostly directed at his wife, Mary's mother.

As the young girl trembled at yet another of her father's explosive tempers, she vowed to herself:
I'll never marry a man who is like my father!

Some years later, Mary met Bill, who treated her with kindness and love. He too seemed to have a high moral standard, but this did not bother Mary during their courting days, because he kept on showering love and affection, by which her own love for him was engendered. When he at last proposed, she joyfully accepted and wedded him. But it took some weeks later, well after their honeymoon ended, that one morning, as she cooked breakfast, she burned the toast, and the room filling with smoke stirred her husband's ire. He banged his fist hard on the table and shouted aloud to her what a damned fool she was.

Mary reeled back, and thought:
Oh my God, I married a man who is just like my father!

That morning, something inside her died. She could no longer see her husband in the same way she saw him during their courtship. As time went on, she bore him children, and their father developed a pride of his own parental status, yet she stayed around to make sure that her children had a good start in life.

Then one day, while the kids were at school, she met Mike at the office where she worked part time. With her own love for Bill long dead, she saw Mike as a possible means of escape from a loveless, fear-bound marriage, in which she felt imprisoned. Eventually, she falls in love with Mike, and files a divorce from Bill. It was a messy affair, what with the Court case on who will have custody of the kids, but watching their parents separate brought much fear and insecurity within them.

The characters in this tale are fiction, but they are based on a true story involving living people. If Mike turned out to be a far better husband than Bill had been, chances would be that her second marriage will endure to old age. But supposing Mike too had a ferocious temper and a high moral standard she was not able to keep? The most likely scenario would be a second divorce, followed by a vow that she would resist any further attempt to be wooed by another man who comes her way, and may even join a feminist group or club. In turn, if she had won custodial rights of her children Bill had fathered, she would end up as one of many single mothers living in the land.

Rather like the Samaritan woman who crossed paths with Jesus Christ while he sat at the well. She has had five husbands, had divorced them all and she was already living with another man. Back in those days, as within the Middle East to this day, a wife was looked and treated as a man's property. This Samaritan woman fell in love and married five different guys at different times, and each of her husbands treated her like scum. When she met Jesus, not only did he tell her everything she had ever done, but he loved her, and loved her in a way that was to change her life forever. He loved her as she was, and by her own choice and the thrill in wallowing in such love, she went out to her city and invited them to see this man who she believes to be the Jewish Messiah.

And this, I think, is what following Christ is all about. I have read blogs on this site as well as books on the Lordship of Christ, which may bear what looks like an admirable slogan: If Christ is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.

It this sense, Jesus is looked upon as a kind of employer or leader rather than who he really is. To the one who teaches Lordship salvation, first I must renounce all my sins, deny myself of any pleasure that is looked upon as unwholesome, take up the cross and follow him. I think that there just might be a problem about renouncing of sin. Talking of sexual sin, for example, I have found it okay to refrain from sex which is outside of marriage. But just looking at another person with a degree of lust is classed by Jesus Christ as adultery as well, but I'll be lying if I were to say that had not happened since conversion. And calling someone a fool without a proper cause is classed as murder, yet I've been angry many times. So is snobbery or snootiness is classed as murder also, according to the Apostle James. Then going back to the sin of adultery, marrying a divorcee is adultery, according to Jesus. By divorcing Bill and marrying Mike, Mary becomes an adulteress along with her second husband. Yet I recall not that long ago when I attended a housegroup, and one of the female members was going through a painful divorce. The leader of the group declared this to be condemned by some Christians on the basis of adultery. She burst into tears as she stormed out of the meeting. How could she love a God with such a picky nature? Yet that is what Lordship Salvation seem to demand.
And music, one of many I should deny myself from if I am to take up the cross to follow Jesus. Most Christians would feel smug for not liking the punk group Sex Pistols of the seventies, or the rock  band, Iron Maiden with their 1982 album Number of the Beast. But I happen to like and enjoy listening to George Harrison's hit, My Sweet Lord, which is a reverence to the Hindu Hare Krishna Mantra. Or listening to Enya with her smooth New Age songs and instrumentals. But then again, I ought to take full delight in Christian songs. The snag with that is I must love such spiritual songs, or else if I don't, it might be proof that I'm not saved after all. Yet there were a number of songs which, to my mind, seemed totally naff, such as the one which contains the line, I am richer than a king - not exactly inspiring if I struggle week by week to keep our budget afloat. Or that other song which has the words, Let it rain, let it rain, let the rain fall...when I was forced to remain housebound for much of the working week due to atrocious weather! It makes me wonder about the mind-thought of these songwriters. Then another song, These are the days of Elijah...Yea, indeed. When I visualise a man in a suit leaving his detached home in a leafy Surrey suburb to climb into his saloon car for a short drive to the office - it's as close to the days of Elijah as it would get. Seriously, since I have a preference for George Harrison and Enya over some spiritual songs, Jesus must be scowling at me, according to Lordship Salvation.

But here, on the subject of spiritual songs, I am aware of the songwriter's sincerity in producing such music. I am richer than a king is a referral to our Heavenly heritage and that we as believers are already seated there despite our daily struggles and gross unfairness in this life. And Let the rain fall on us is about the Holy Spirit filling us as a corporate body so we would have an impact among unbelievers around us, particularly at work. The issue with Elijah is still to me somewhat of a mystery, but the point here made is that according to Lordship Salvation, Jesus can't be very happy with me in preferring secular music, and may even question my salvation.
Another example maybe, is riding on a nail-biting roller-coaster yelling at the fast, downhill drop when I should be spending my time praying, meditating or reading the Bible. Or forbidding to watch television. Around 1976, I had gotten involved with a Pentecostal group which met weekly at the leader's home, and this guy had visited the homes of members to ensure that there were no TVs present. I had left that group before he had the chance to visit my apartment. He also insisted that men had short hair and women met with their heads covered, and salvation was lost if anyone don't tow the line, loses or renounced their faith. In such an environment, I may indeed "take up my cross and follow him" but God also seemed to present a callous nature which is easy to fear but difficult to love.

And I think this was the main problem with the house of Israel, particularly during and after the Exodus. I read about the almighty power of God as Moses defeats Pharaoh, then opens up the Red Sea so that the Hebrews can cross on dry land, watch the sea close back in to witness the pursuing Egyptian army drown, feed them with manna and deliver the Decalogue from the summit of a high mountain. But in reading these pages, together with the whole book of Leviticus, I felt very little of God's love to the Hebrews. Very demanding? Yes. Perfect? Yes. Holy? Yes. Just by reading the Law I could see a lot of goodness and fairness for each other, but being executed for collecting sticks on the Sabbath? Or just for swearing at my parents in frustration? Or for having sex with a woman not my wife? Or even one person who questioned the leadership of Moses. For me personally, in these pages I can't visualise God as a loving Father who understands my weak frame yet accepts me for who I am, but rather as someone who is constantly looking out for any mistake I make and clobber me for it.

This, I believe, was how the house of Israel viewed God as well. The rest of the Old Testament is a melancholic record of the rebellious nation who had a golden calf made soon after the Decalogue was delivered. When the calf was destroyed, the people drank from a nearby stream and worshipped, but I tend to sense that it was through fear of punishment rather than true contrition borne out of love. The nation rebelled right through to the exile to Babylon, with only short periods of revival, such as under King David and Solomon. By the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the nation was in such a bad state that repentance was out of the question and the exile was the only means of discipline.

Yet God knew of all this from before history. In Romans 5:20 Paul writes that the law was added so that sin might increase. In other words, although the law of God was perfect in itself, it brought the wrath of God, as sin within myself caused me to kick back in rebellion. And I should know. During my teenage years I was an atheist, after failing to keep the law of the Roman Catholic Church in order to enter Heaven after death. In the synoptic Gospels (i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke) where the true meaning of the law was revealed, most of the teaching of Jesus was directed to Jews, who thought that by keeping the law of Moses will receive eternal life. Many believed that they were doing okay. The rich young ruler was one of them, although he was aware that he missed out on something. When Jesus exposed his love of his own wealth which brought him security, it was then that his failure to keep the commandments lay mostly with his sin of worshipping his riches instead of God. As one who believed in Lordship Salvation myself in the 1980s, I failed to read what Jesus concluded: That what is impossible with man is possible with God. In other words, without a special working of God in our hearts, it is impossible to keep the commandments perfectly to the level of inheriting eternal life.

In the beginning, God created us with a free choice to love him. He didn't want automation. Instead, he desired a true relationship of love. Because God himself is love. This perfect eternal love flowed unhindered between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Throughout the whole of eternity there was no hint of disagreement within the members of the Trinity. The whole Godhead agreed to create the earth and put humankind on it with the purpose of sharing in this love within the Trinity. When sin entered the world, the culprit for this was Lucifer, and the battle for men's hearts was between God and Lucifer, not with man himself.

God didn't say that he will defeat the Devil by giving man a set of laws to keep. Instead he declared that a descendant of Adam will bruise his head, and he in turn will bruise his heel. Jesus Christ did just that - when he died on the cross, Lucifer was defeated. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. He is God becoming flesh, a necessity to redeem humankind and restore the love relation between them and himself. Because Jesus is God incarnate, he is Lord. In fact, that is precisely why he is Lord - because Jesus Christ is God Almighty! When Paul wrote that no one can say Jesus is Lord except through the Holy Spirit, he was referring to him as being God, not merely a leader, employer or teacher.

One way God likens his relationship with the believing saint is likened to the husband/wife relationship. Jesus had referred to his Church (universal body of believers) as his Bride. As a believer, I am part of that Bride. So are you. But it wasn't by any effort on my part or yours. Any effort on our part would have been utterly impossible, simply because Jesus Christ is God and we are not! Therefore to believe, I did not throw all my secular music records away into the trash bin, neither did I promise never to visit the cinema, amusement park or even from watching television, yet neither did I give my life unconditionally and unreservingly to Jesus Christ, promising to take up the cross and follow him daily in order to secure my salvation. Yet I have read and listened to Lordship Salvationists teach precisely this! By the end of the day I wondered just whose grace saves; God's grace - or my own?

Poor Mary. Her husband had a very high moral standard, high enough to pass judgement when she burned the toast. The result was that something in their marriage died. She was a loyal female who believed in both keeping her marriage alive and making sure her children were taken care of, yet it lacked that vital spark of life. Mike was the easy way out.

But supposing on that morning, while smoke was filling the kitchen, Bill had put his arms around his wife and gently whispered,
Darling, don't worry about the toast. You can heat another slice of bread, or if you wish, I'll do it. Oh Mary, I love you so much. You are everything to me, and you will always be.

How much more would the marriage have blossomed! She would have felt secure, revelling in her husband's love. One thing for sure, Mike at the office would have had absolutely no appeal to her. Her steadfast love for her husband would have drowned out any desire Mike would have tried to engender. Just to make Bill happy would have been her best interest, eager to pursue.

And that's how Jesus is to us, and if believed to be true, our response would be in love, knowing that his love for us is unconditional. He has taken all our sins, all our imperfections and all our shortcomings on the cross. God the Father will never ever see us as sinful or falling short ever again, as he has removed our sins as far away is east is from the West and our sins he will see no more.

Lordship Salvation? Into the bin along with the burnt toast. After all, both taste awful.