Historically one of the first major heretics to arise out of the Christian faith was a man by the name of Marcion (2nd century; taught 140-155 A.D.). He denied many of the writings of the New Testament (hereafter N.T.) that seemed to share too much affinity with the Jewish faith of old. He took issue with the God of the Old Testament (hereafter O.T.) because he did not like the wrathful version of God he saw there. He looked at Jesus as the exact opposite; a person who was kind, good and loving. A version of this man’s teachings, based upon the same faulty assumptions, is still existent today.
When people read the N. T. this false veneer is presented on their interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth. He is portrayed as non-offensive and non-combative; a kind, loving, beggarly individual that would never say anything mean (he’d never want to hurt a person’s feelings) or sarcastic (he’d never want to cause contention with people). For many, the version of Jesus many people hold to today (even professing believers) is not compatible with what we read in the O. T. description of Holy God. It is often said, “Jesus loved everybody unconditionally.” Did he now? Is that really how He is described in the N.T.?
Witnessing to a Witness?
Yesterday, I had a forty-minute dialogue with a Jehovah’s Witness. He was attempting to invite me to a meeting they were having—a memorial service to the Last Supper. As he explained to me their position I politely listened. After he was finished I asked if he understood what the true meaning of the Last Supper was. “Well, to remember Jesus’ life,” he said. “Why is that important,” I asked? “What purpose did the cross of Jesus serve? What necessity did the blood of Jesus meet? To whom is His sacrifice applied, and what does it accomplish?” Besides his immediate detour on a discussion of whether or not the “Roman cross” was really a cross or “a stake,” he struggled with answering the questions I posed.
He said, “if you would only come to our meeting, then you would know our position.” In response I asked, “If I come to your meeting, would I be permitted to speak?” He shook his head and said, “no…you couldn’t do that, but won’t you be open minded, and just listen?” “If you did,” he added “you’d see the similarities that we have in our thinking.” Again I inquired, “Would you go to a seminar that atheists were holding and listen to them with an open mind?” Immediately, he said, “No, of course not!” “Why,” I pressed “for you would find that there are some things that you share in common with the atheist. There are things that they hold to that are common to all people.” He said, “But, they do not believe in God.” “Ah,” I said, “and herein lay our dilemma. You would suggest to me that I ought to go to your meeting to listen to what you have to say with an open mind. I could listen to what you have to say, just as I can listen to what an atheist has to say, because I am confident that by the Holy Spirit I can discern the truth from error. However,” I stated “if I were to offer you a similar invitation to my church to listen to my sermon, to hear my teaching, would you do so? Would you and your friends here be able to be as open-minded as you insist I should?” “Of course not!” he said. “That’s a problem,” I explained “for I see that you are not being very consistent .”
Trying to steer the conversation back to the reason why he came to my home he inquired once again, “Will you not come? I admit that I am not being consistent, but if you came to our meeting you would learn what we believe about this (the Lord’s Supper, what he continually called a memorial service) and in time might learn the truth.” Laughing a bit at his persistence I countered, “Why do you take communion?” (Now, I already knew that only the “anointed” in their cult were allowed to participate in taking communion at their memorial service, and the higher ups keep a running count of who claims to be of the “anointed class;” the 144,000 of Revelation 7:14; 14:1, 3). However, I had my own agenda at the moment and I wanted to make a point to a man that started off the conversation with me pretending to believe the Bible is the authoritative word on the subject of his beliefs.
He did not miss a beat in explaining to me that only the “anointed” could participate in the elements. I told him that I found that peculiar on two accounts. One, the Bible teaches that the disciples of Christ were to “do this in remembrance of [Him]” (Luke 22.19), and what we ought to notice if we read the Scriptures is that this rite was participated in by all members of the Christian community as seen in Acts (cf. 2:42, 46) and specifically in 1Cor 11:20-32. Two, on what grounds do you attempt to limit participation in what Christ commanded? From where do you get the designation “anointed” only, as the only class of Christians that may participate in the Lord’s Supper? Surely, the Bible does not teach this. Neither the Christ nor His apostles taught this, so why do you?
At this point he tried to show me Rev 21:17 where the text speaks of measuring the wall of the temple and its measurement is “144 cubits.” He then said, “This coincides with the 144,000….” I interrupted at this point, “You mean the 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel spoken of earlier in the book?” “Yes,” he said “this coincides with…” Again, I interjected “what’s a cubit?” “What?” he said. “Oh, well a cubit coincides with….” “No,” I stopped him “what is a cubit?” When he attempted the same song and dance I said to him, “A cubit is a unit of measurement isn’t it, similar to a foot?” “Yes, but it coincides with….” “the 144,000?” I finished. “Right, that’s right,” he told me without any hesitation.
I pointed out “Nope, that’s wrong. Rev 21:17 is speaking about a unit of measurement not a grouping of people. You are taking that text out of context and adding your own meaning to it, just as you do with the Lord’s Supper. Jesus told his followers to do this ‘in remembrance of him’ because it is His blood that paid the ransom price for our sinful lives. Jesus became a curse (cf. Gal 3.13), he became sin even though He never sinned, so that we might become the righteousness of God (cf. 2Cor 5.21). Jesus died to save His people from their sins (Matt 1.21),” I explained.
I continued, “The problem is that we do not believe in the same Jesus, we do not believe in the same God of Scripture—who is Triune in nature—for my God did for me what I could not do for myself. My works, my choice is not what saved me, my Lord saved me and I cannot deny my Lord.” He then attempted to adopt the same language as I had used for a few moments, but I ended up stopping him. I explained, “You use the same language that I use, but you do not mean the same things. The Father sent the Son into the world to die for His people (people given to Him by the Father), and the Son laid down His life for His people, and the Holy Spirit raises Christ’s people up regenerating them.”
With a look of confusion on his face he proceeded to say, “Though much of what you say Kris is true; much of what you say is ignorant and it comes from your ignorance.” Laughing a bit, I told him “Since you called me ignorant, I must ask have you not read? ‘God chose the weak out of the world, the poor out of the world and the foolish out of the world…’ (1Cor 1.27-28; paraphrased) you call me an ignoramus and that’s fine; God called me, I am His, and I cannot deny Him. He saved me from hell…but you my friend, you do not have this.”
About this point, you may have wondered if I forgot what I opened up with at that beginning of this post, but I have not forgotten. After my last statement my dialogue with this J.W. grew a bit animated. His disdain for the doctrine of hell became apparent. He identified my God as one who is wrathful and cruel. He said, “What sort of awful God would condemn a person like us, who lives what? Seventy or Eighty years to an eternity in torment! A loving God would never do such a thing, that wouldn’t be fair…seventy years for forever!?! God destroys those who do not faith in Him, who do not freely choose Him…He wouldn’t do what you suggest.” In the remaining couple of minutes in our conversation I asked if he believed God was truly holy and tried to explain the depths of our sin and need for Jesus as a substitute, but he would have none of it.1 He left in a hurry and I prayed for the man and the people who were with him.
This reaction of disdain and disgust is the norm when a person reads the commands of God, and the penalties that follow for our sin against Him. People have made God into an idol. They have elevated one or a few of His attributes, like love or goodness, above all others. The moment that God does not fit the mold that people have formed in their hearts of who they believe the God of the Bible should be, they offhandedly reject Him.
God is more than the supposed defining mark of love and goodness. He is also holy and therefore hates sin. He is Just and therefore, as judge delves out justice in all cases. God is many things, for many attributes are given in Scripture that accurately define His perfect characteristics (i.e. character/nature), but to elevate one over and above another gives a disproportionate view of who He is; and, is therefore by definition an idol. To do that with the God of Scripture is to take His Name in vain and blaspheme Him. This, ironically or not, warrants a penalty of a death sentence; to which (no surprise here!) people complain about, as being much too harsh. And to that kind of thinking I will respond with the words of the late R.C. Sproul, “What is wrong with you people!”
1 I also spent some time with him in John 12:37-41 and Isaiah 6:1-10 proving that Jesus was the one whose glory Isaiah saw in the past as Yahweh (Jehovah), but no matter how clear the text was before him (even in his New Word Translation—NWT) he was confused by what he was reading and hearing (cf. Acts 9.22).