Wednesday, October 18, 2023

World War Three? Part Two: Israel and Hamas


In Part One of this series, I speculated that we might be seeing the start of World War Three. Recent events seem to be building the case for that likelihood.

The Russia/Ukraine war shows no sign of stopping. In the nearly two years since it began, Belarus has made clear that they are firmly on Russia’s side. Despite efforts by the majority of U.N. members to choke off aid to Russia, some countries have given either tacit approval or active aid to Russia’s aggression, including:

  • China
  • India
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Syria
  • Myanmar
  • Eritrea
  • Mali
  • Nicaragua

In October, 2023, China hosted Russian leader Putin at an economic meeting that was also attended by Hungary’s president, Viktor Orban. Orban shook Putin’s hand and expressed his eagerness to “expand contacts.” He said, “Hungary never wanted to confront Russia.”  

On the other side of the hostilities, Finland joined NATO in April, 2023, taking their stand against Russia after decades of neutrality. In October, Finland accused Russia of sabotaging an undersea pipeline and telecommunications cable, possibly as a retaliatory move.

Sweden, after a long-standing policy of neutrality, also applied to join NATO in May, 2022, allying themselves against Russia. They, too, reported damage to an undersea cable. They haven’t yet blamed Russia, but the implication is there.

Russia seems to have a split personality: They have a strong anti-extremist policy which they have used against Islamic organizations within Russia (which they have weirdly applied to decidedly non-extremists, like Jehovah’s Witnesses). But they have also always kept an open mind toward Islamic governments outside Russia. They trade, for example, for military drones from Iran. Iran doesn’t need Russia’s oil, but they do import billions of dollars worth of other goods from them.

Russia also has strong diplomatic ties to Israel. Until now, Israel has not joined most of the World in sanctioning Russia for its attacks on Ukraine. A significant portion of Israelis hail from Russia, and a Russian speaker can navigate quite comfortably in Israel.

Just as nations chose up sides in 2022 between Russia and Ukraine, they are now having to choose between Israel and Hamas. (To read my column on the origin of the modern-day state of Israel, click here.)

Hamas is described as an Islamic extremist group or terrorist organization, depending on who’s doing the describing. They disagreed with the peace treaty worked out between Israel and Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian organization back in Bill Clinton’s day. Hamas maintains, as the pre-Arafat Palestinians did, that Israel has no right to exist and should be exterminated. They began ‘poking the bear’ with small attacks against Israelis in the early 2000s. From 2007 on, Israel has walled off the densely populated, tiny Palestinian metropolis known as the Gaza Strip, turning it into a virtual outdoor prison. Anyone entering or leaving Gaza had to be cleared either through a gate east to Israel or a gate south to Egypt. 

On October 7, 2023, Hamas fired an estimated 2,200 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Where did they get the rockets? Some say they were manufactured in Iran; Iran denies it. Just as the Mexican drug cartels dug under the southern border of the United States, Hamas dug tunnels under the border with Egypt to bring in rockets and other contraband from - somewhere. They also seem to have learned how to make rockets themselves.

Coordinated with the rocket attacks, they also launched ground attacks against the checkpoints into Israel and began killing random Israelis in villages and kibbutz’s outside the Strip, grabbing hundreds of hostages and dragging them back inside.  They took hostage many other non-Palestinians who were already within the Gaza Strip.

With the open war between Israel and Hamas, unsurprisingly the United States and most of NATO have come to the aid of or expressed support for Israel. Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, Qatar, and Lebanon have all expressed their support for Hamas, as have the terror groups Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad and others.

True Christians are strictly neutral as to world politics. But that doesn’t mean we are uninterested. We are saddened by the harm, stress, and loss of life in all countries affected by war. But these stressful conditions reaffirm that we are, absolutely, seeing the signs the Bible told us to watch for.

Only two major signs remain unfulfilled.

The next one calls for a significant cry of ‘Peace and Security!’ As we’ve discussed in previous columns, that cry could come in several different ways: 1. A dramatic end to a very large scale war, such as happened at the end of World War Two; 2. A change in the U.N.'s methods or ability to regulate international relations; 3. A shift in the human condition - such as a technological 'miracle' or a significant economic change - that causes the populace to begin saying that they personally are feeling more peaceful and secure than they ever have.

Personally, I’ve always expected the latter. I even speculated about it in my novel Resurrection Day. But if the fulfillment requires the declaration of peace at the end of a major war, then the current crises could escalate to exactly that climax.

 You can read Part One by clicking here. You can read Part Three here.

Your polite comments are welcome. 
 
 Bill K. Underwood is the author of several novels and one non-fiction self-help book, all available at Amazon.com. You can help support this site by purchasing a book.
 

Monday, October 9, 2023

How to define real Christianity

 



Who, really, is a ‘Christian’?

Sadly, we now live in a society where even asking such a question is seen as being judgmental. But surely there’s a definitive answer, even if it offends someone.

Dictionary definitions are all over the map. One says, “One who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.” But another says Christianity means, “Treating other people in a kind and generous way.” 

The last definition is patently ridiculous; lots of people of religions other than Christianity treat others in a kind and generous way. What has been called “the Golden Rule” (‘Treat others as you would like to be treated,’ Matthew 7:12) has parallels among nearly all religions, from Buddhism to Baha’i, Judaism to Jainism.

The other definition seems closer to the mark, professing belief in Jesus’ teachings. The problem with that one is that many folks who clearly don’t practice Jesus’ teachings, many who don't even know what those teachings are, still call themselves Christians.

Is that good enough? Can we define a “Christian” as ‘one who believes in Jesus’ teachings'?

Let's look at how we came to that word “Christian”.

Jesus called his followers disciples, but that Greek word was not unique to Jesus – Paul no doubt described himself early in life as a disciple (follower or student) of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Gamaliel, in a speech to the Jewish rulers, described a troublemaker named Judas the Galilean as “drawing away (a Greek word linked to 'apostasy') disciples after himself" (Acts 5:37). The elders of the congregation in Jerusalem warned Paul that the leaders of the Jews viewed his teachings as “an apostasy from Moses. . .” (Acts 21:21)

Some Bible scholars posit that devout Jews of Jesus’ day dubbed his followers derec hanotserim, Hebrew for ‘the sect (or the Way) of the Nazarene’, and that Saul and other persecutors may have shortened it to simply ‘The Way’. Jewish enemies are quoted as using the term ‘The Way’ about them half a dozen times in the Bible (Acts 9:2). In turn, those early Christians may have accepted the term, turning it from pejorative to compliment by linking it to the phrase, “The Way of Jehovah”, used nine times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Proverbs 10:29). Adding some backing to that speculation is that Luke used exactly that term to describe the instruction of a disciple named Apollos in Acts 18:25.

For about the first six years after Jesus’ death, his followers were almost exclusively Jewish. The Jewish leaders viewed them as a breakaway sect of Judaism. A couple years after they began to include Gentiles in their preaching the biblical account tells us, “… The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Ac 11:26 WEB) 

The word rendered ‘called’ could be taken to mean people in general calling them that, perhaps even using it as a derogatory term, like the followers of Sun Myung Moon being called Moonies. However, Bible commentator Adam Clarke (as well as others) noted that the Greek word translated‘called’ here is consistently used throughout the New Testament in reference to messages from God. The word is used, for example, in Luke 2:26 where it speaks of a man named Simeon being ‘advised by the holy spirit’ that he would see the Messiah before he died. Thus some Bible translations render Acts 11:26, “… the disciples also were divinely called first in Antioch Christians.” (Young’s Literal Trans.)

For the next fourteen centuries, people all over Europe and the Middle East called themselves ‘Christians.’ They did so even throughout the Dark Ages when most of them couldn’t read, when they had no actual knowledge of what Christ taught his followers to do and believe. There was only one church choice for believers – Catholic. It was called “catholic” because the first definition of that word is “universal”, and that was sadly fitting: as the kings and popes conquered other peoples and absorbed their pagan beliefs into the Church it truly became a universal mishmash of non-biblical, non-Christ-like doctrine.

As those kings and popes began to encounter other empires that could not be absorbed into their universal church they coined a couple new words: ‘Christendom’, for themselves (meaning all the kingdoms ruled by kings they considered Christian) and ‘Pagandom’, the Islamic, Asian and African worlds ruled by kings that wouldn't kiss their rings.

Even after Martin Luther’s protest broke significant chunks of claimed Christians away from Catholicism, kings and clergy still included those Protestants, politically at least, in Christendom.


 It's really too bad the term Christendom has faded like Shakespeare’s English. "Members of Christendom" would certainly be a much more accurate term for the millions of professed ‘Christians’ living today.

So if all those who call themselves Christians are not really Christians, what’s a Christian?

The best definition of Christian would have to come from the Bible. One of the original Christians, Peter, said that Christ left “a model for you to follow his steps closely.” (1 Peter 2:24) 

If we do our best to closely follow the model Jesus set, we can properly call ourselves Christians. If we do not, we cannot. What model did Jesus set?

  • Jesus taught his followers to pray to “OUR Father,” that is, his father as well as theirs. (Matthew 6:9) He never taught anyone to pray to him.
  • Jesus’ taught those early Christians to use his Father’s name (John 17:6), even though their Jewish leaders were discouraging people from using it.
  • Early Christians preached about Jesus, but they also taught the gentiles the importance of turning from pagan gods with names like Dionysus, Zeus, and Apollos to Jehovah God. (1 Thess. 1:9)
  • Early Christians had no special garments, special titles, or salary for clergy. In fact, they had no clergy. Matthew 23:1-12)
  • Jesus rejected special titles for himself. (Luke 22:25, 26; Mark 10:17)
  • Jesus exemplified humility, giving credit to his father for his teachings. (John 7:16)
  • Jesus took no money for his work. He died penniless despite being able to perform amazing miracles. (Mark 15:24)
  • Every Christian was expected to preach, and was taught to do so. (Matthew 28:19, 20)
  • Early Christians were united. They ‘spoke with one accord.’ (Acts 4:24)
  • Early Christians knew what Jesus wanted them to do, and they did it. “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:13) How many of Jesus’ commands can you name? How many are you doing?
  • Jesus commanded Christians to love one another ‘just as HE loved them.’ (John 13:34) He loved us enough to died for us; who would you be willing to die for?
  • Early Christians did not hate other Christians; in fact, they were forbidden to do so. (1 John 2:11)
  • Jesus taught that marriage was forever (Matthew 19:6), that sex belonged only within marriage (Matthew 5:32), and that engaging in homosexuality did not have God’s approval (Luke 17:29).
  • Early Christians obeyed even dictatorial authorities (Matthew 5:42), yet they refused orders that contradicted Jesus’ commands (Matthew 22:21).

I could go on, but this has gotten too long already. Suffice it to say, you will find very, very few Christians that meet this definition of Christianity. But they do exist. They are on the hard, narrow road, rather than the broad, easy one.

Everyone else who calls himself a Christian is really just a member of Christendom. 

To read Part One of this discussion, click here.

Please feel free to leave a comment. 

 Bill K. Underwood is the author of several novels and one non-fiction self-help book, all available at Amazon.com. You can help support this site by purchasing a book.


Monday, September 4, 2023

Results of the Christianity Quiz

 


If your church failed the quiz in the previous column, congratulations! You are less likely to be on the ‘broad road’ to destruction.

Can we really say that, just because the majority of churches subscribe to the same core beliefs they must be on the broad road, weeds rather than wheat, goats rather than sheep?

Yes, we can. Take a look:

1.       1. The belief that Jesus is God.

Over 175 times in the Hebrew scriptures Jehovah said bluntly, ‘I am your God,’ ‘I am Jehovah’, or similar pronouncements. “I am Jehovah your God.” (Isaiah 42:8) Is there any scripture where Jesus said something similar, that he was God? No. Not a single instance; quite the contrary. Jesus told his followers he worshiped his father (John 20:17); he prayed to his father (Matthew 26:42); He was taught by his father (John 8:28); sent by his father (Luke 4:18); obeyed his father (John 8:29). He taught them to worship, obey, pray to and be taught by his father (John 5:30). He never told his followers to worship or pray to himself. 

Jesus called himself God’s son (John 10:36); His followers called him God’s son (Matthew 14:33); angels called him God’s son (Luke 1:35); His enemies called him God’s son (John 19:7); Satan and the demons called him God’s son (Matthew 8:29). If Jesus is God, surely Satan would have known. Yet he called him 'son of God'. (Matthew 4:3)

2.   Immortality of the soul.

Nowhere does the Bible say you have a soul that lives on when you die. It very clearly says the opposite: when you die you’re dead. (Ecclesiastes 9:5) Death is called sleep. (John 11:11) Jesus said he will resurrect the dead. (John 5:28) If your soul lives on after you die, how could he do that? Why would he need to?

3.       Punishment of bad people in hell.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say any such thing. In fact, it says the opposite - that dying, not hellfire, is the end result of sin. 'The wages of sin is death.' (Romans 6:23)

4.       God will save everyone.

(I refer you to my previous column on this subject.) The Bible says “the one that endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13), that only chosen ones will be saved (Matthew 24:22), only those on the narrow way (Matthew 7:14), squeezing through the narrow door (Luke 13:24), and obeying Jesus’ commands (John 15:13, 14), will be saved.

5.    God doesn't care what you do sexually, as long as you love one another.

The Bible clearly defines marriage as one man and one woman. (Genesis 2:24) Sex outside of that arrangement is clearly condemned (1 Corinthians 6:9). Nor was Jesus silent on the subject of homosexuality: “On the day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed them all.” (Luke 17:29) Sodom wasn't destroyed for drunkenness, or gluttony, or running a stop sign.

6.       Jesus was all about peace and love and unconditional acceptance.  

Wrong. He condemned prejudice, but he encouraged us to have standards: “Stop judging by the outward appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) Any competent Bible scholar can tell you that the passage included in some Bibles about 'let he who is sinless cast the first stone' was added hundreds of years after Jesus died. 


7.       Nationalism, 'my country right or wrong.'

 

“My Kingdom is no part of this world. If my Kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my Kingdom is not from this source.” (John 18:36)

8.       The clergy are especially holy and loved by Jesus.

 Jesus never condoned a clergy class with special garments and high-sounding titles. The clergy in his day had already developed those bad habits:  “[They] lengthen the fringes of their garments. They like the most prominent place at evening meals and the front seats in the synagogues and the greetings in the marketplaces and to be called Rabbi by men. But you, do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your Teacher, and all of you are brothers.” (Matthew 23:5-8) The clergy would like you to believe that command has been rescinded. Take the time to read Mathew 23 for yourself. And they especially hate the command Jesus gave preachers: “You received free, give free.”  (Matthew 10:8,9) All Jesus’ true followers, not any special clergy class, were told, ‘Go, make disciples of people of all nations.' (Matthew 28:19)

9.       The Bible is a mystery. Faith means blind trust.

Faith is not blindly trusting something you heard, even if you heard it from the pulpit. 'Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not apparent.' (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is based on evidence. “Let all things be tested; keep to what is good.” (1Thess. 5:21) The Bible is not a mystery. It was 'written for our instruction.' (Romans 15:4)

Perhaps you take issue with one or two of these points. But Jesus clearly said there would be a majority and a minority among Christians, and that the majority would be wrong. If your church teaches most of the above points, It is in the majority. If you personally disagree with this understanding of Jesus’ teachings, what is your explanation of the broad road? How do you explain all these so-called Christian denominations, making up the clear majority, holding so many teachings in common despite clear scriptures saying the opposite?

The Bible is only confusing if you try to read it while holding onto your own beliefs. 

Please leave a comment. To read the first column in this series, click here.

 Bill K. Underwood is the author of several novels and one non-fiction self-help book, all available at Amazon.com. You can help support this site by purchasing a book.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Take the Christianity Quiz


 

Okay, I lied - it isn't actually a quiz. Just something to think about:

How do you define Christianity? There are small variations from one church to another, nit-picky things like different understandings of a particular verse; teachings about saints, candles, confession and indulgences. 

But most Christian religions, when painted in very broad strokes, have these beliefs in common:


·       Jesus is understood to be God.
·       Jesus’ main reason for coming to earth was to be a manifestation of God and to save all mankind.
·       You have an immortal soul that continues when you die.
·       At death your soul goes to heaven or hell. 
·       Hell is a horrible place, generally believed to be tortuously hot.
·       Virtually no one you know personally ever ends up in hell. They have some redeeming quality that will keep them out of that place.
·       Eventually, everyone will be reconciled to God - apparently even the ones who were consigned to burn in hell forever.
·       Sex outside marriage is sort of frowned upon, but teachings to that effect are not enforced. While marriage to one of the opposite sex is viewed positively, alternatives are no one's business.
·       Opinions condemning homosexual behavior should be kept to oneself.
·       The most Christian quality is judgment-free acceptance of virtually any behavior that doesn't explicitly hurt a child or an animal.
·       Good Christians celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and other holy days. Regardless of their well-known pagan roots, such beliefs are sanctified by  their acceptance into the church.
·       Good Christians reverence their country’s flag, serve in the military, vote, and run for office.
·       A Christian preacher is a paid professional.
·       A Christian preacher should have a special title, wear special articles of clothing, be given special reverence, seats and parking spaces in the church.
·       Christian preachers overseeing churches may be of either gender and any sexuality.
·       The laity’s duty is to be nice to their neighbors and attend church, or at least support the preacher financially.
·       A collection plate is passed at every service. Special services such as weddings are expected to be accompanied by special payments.  
·       The Bible is mysterious and contradictory. It is a wise old book but not the absolute truth.
·       Faith means accepting what can’t be satisfactorily explained.

Since no one seems to agree on anything anymore I don’t expect anyone to look at this list and say, ‘Yup, that’s exactly what my church teaches.’ But you could ask yourself or a friend whether some, many, or most of the items above loosely fit your church.

If the answer is yes, here’s a shocker for you:

Jesus said, very specifically, that there would end up being two kinds of Christianity. He referred to one as ‘a broad, wide road leading off to destruction, and many are on it.’ The other, he said, was narrow, cramped, difficult, and “few are the ones finding it.” (Matthew 7:13, 14) 


Lest you think that he meant ‘Christianity’ was the narrow road and, I don’t know, anti-Christianity, Pagandom, Islam? – is the broad road, notice that a few verses on he says that the people on the broad road call HIM “Lord!” (Matthew 7:22) 

The people on both roads label themselves as Christians.

What do all the teachings in those bullet-points above have in common?

Most of them are held in common by the majority. Hence, the people who agree with most of that list are on the wrong road, the broad road.

Am I reading too much into this? No, Jesus repeated the same point in different words in different places.

In Matthew 13:36-43 he compared his preaching to a man sowing wheat in a field. An enemy then over-sowed weeds in that same field. Jesus, the owner of the field, acknowledged that it would be hard to tell the wheat from the weeds and commanded, ‘Let both grow together until harvest.’ Christianity would include both wheat - genuine Christians, and weeds - fake Christians, side-by-side, down through time until the end.

In another word picture he compared Christians to a flock of mixed sheep and goats. (Matthew 25:31-46) In the illustration, both groups address him as “Lord”, so the entire flock are calling themselves Christians. But when tested, part of the flock fails. They are judged to be goats, weed-like, fake Christians; and they are destroyed. 

In the next column on this subject, we'll go through those bullet-points, one by one, and show from the Bible why real Christians don't agree with them.

Please feel free to copy the link to this column and share it with your friends. To jump to Part Two, click here.

Please leave a comment.

 Bill K. Underwood is the author of several novels and one non-fiction self-help book, all available at Amazon.com. You can help support this site by purchasing a book.