Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Paul's Doctrine of Grace

I think that Paul's teachings of "Salvation by Grace" are used to create a sinister distortion of the true Grace of God, as well as a distortion of God's Justice.

A Distortion of Grace

According to Paul, God requires death and blood as a payment for sin. (Romans 6:23) The system of animal sacrifice in the Mosaic law is reinterpreted by followers of Paul as a system of death by proxy, and the inferior Mosaic sacrifice of animals is eventually replaced with the infinite and superior "New Testament" sacrifice of a Divine being: Jesus. The idea is that in order for Justice to be fulfilled, God requires the payment for each sin to be exacted, and Jesus has become the payment for the sins of all those who accept him.

The problem with this? YHVH is a god of Love, and He is more capable than any human being. The truth of the Mosaic system is this: God commanded us to Love him. We show our love for Him by obeying Torah, by following Mitzvot (Commandments.) When we make mistakes, he offers true forgiveness for us. Animal sacrifices were offered in order to give up our good things to God, as a token of our love. The forgiveness that he offers is true because it isn't about displacing punishment onto another, its about forgiving.

Have you ever been really angry at someone? Perhaps you've wanted to hit them? God asks us to forgive our fellow men. Does this mean we should take out our anger by hitting a stand-in so that the one who offended doesn't need to pay? No. That is just redirection of anger. No forgiveness happened, the wrath merely got redirected. We forgive our fellows by extending mercy towards them, by giving them a second chance. If we, being human, can muster up the strength to do this virtuous thing, certainly God can do it, too!

So the truth is that God can really forgive you! Just pray and ask him for it. The catch is, that you must really be sorry, and you must be serious about not repeating your sins. This expression of our sorrow and re-commitment to follow Torah is the repentance that Jesus, John the Baptist, and dozens of prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures called people unto.

A Distortion of Justice

Even though God extends mercy to us for our honest mistakes, he is a fair and righteous judge. Paul's teachings are used to distort justice by people who teach that it is not by works (following mitzvot) that we are saved but by "grace alone" through faith on Jesus Christ.

A Pauline Christian can imagine someone who robs, steals, cheats, bears false witness, covets, and also accepts Jesus Christ as their savior to be "covered" by the grace of Jesus.

They also see someone who follows all the mitzvot, loves God and their neighbor, feeds the hungry and clothes the naked going to Hell because they did not accept Jesus Christ as their savior, justifying this by the statement that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

Jesus taught ethics. He promised people that they were near to the Kingdom of God when they lived according to the Torah and demonstrated love to their fellows. Jesus actively forgave sins during his life, telling people to go and sin no more! He never spoke about suffering to take on all sins by proxy at his death. That doctrine didn't exist until Paul taught it. He did, however, die because of (from) people's sins. Sin was the cause of his death.

By teaching grace alone (and contradicting James even on the subject of Abraham's justification), Paul opens the door for the permissibility of sinfulness, corruption, selfishness, etc. It is true that a grace-alone believer can truly repent, and live by God's law, and become sanctified, but without works there is no attempt to fulfill mitzvot, and the person living in faith without works is therefore failing in the first commandment, to love the LORD thy God.

If you serve God with a sincere heart, he will become your deliverance, and you need not fear. He is the most Just of all judges, because he can weigh your heart in the balance together with the evidence of your actions.

In Defense of Babylon

There is one point I would like to explain on behalf of the so-called Christians. I am not sure if they even understand this, because I never did until recently, but three of their doctrines add up to eliminate some of the ill logic described above. Protestants typically believe that the believers constitute the "Body of Christ" and because of this, Christ isn't a Proxy (in your behalf), but rather is a reinforced part of your own self, thus God is punishing "you" (the Body of Christ) for your own sin. (Does this mean that the Body of Christ is a sinful being?) And, on the other side, the Trinity equates Jesus with the Father, which means instead of punishing you, he's taking the punishment upon an aspect of himself. This is supposed to reconcile the problems with true forgiveness and proxy punishment that I mentioned above. It is a clever attempt made by the philosophies of men, but it fails to measure up adequately to the simplicity and beauty of a true system of repentance and forgiveness.

To Sum Up

It turns out that the God of Israel is a God of Love, offering genuine mercy and forgiveness, and perfect justice, while the Christ-God of Pauline Christianity is a bloodthirsty, vengeful being, that doesn't have a heart big enough to forgive but instead must kill his own innocent son in order to let the wicked run free.

Please, tell me if I've gotten this wrong!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lighted Way Ministries

I just wanted to do a quick shout-out about Lighted Way Ministries. They're an interesting group that as far as I can tell, is on a very good path. I've had the privilege lately of going to a few of their lectures. Mark and Shauna Manfredine seem to be the principal speakers on theological issues (leaving other subjects such as healthy eating, medicine, and basic ethics to others,) and their presentations are highly compelling and show a real dedication to God.

Right now, I particularly want to draw attention to their answer to a question about Biblical inspiration. The distinction between "Word Inspired" and "Thought Inspired" is excellent. I've read an Ellen G. White quote that stated essentially the same thing, so I will share that here:
"The Bible is written by inspired men, but it is not God's mode of thought and expression. It is that of humanity. God, as a writer, is not represented. Men will often say that such an expression is not like God. But God has not put Himself in words, in logic, in rhetoric, on trial in the Bible. The writers of the Bible were God's penmen, not His pen. Look at the different writers. It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man's words or his expressions, but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. But the words receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God." (Ellen G. White ms. 24, 1886, Selected Messages, 1:21)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mystic Experience with a Holy Spirit

Last night something happened. Well, it's been brewing for about a week. My friend Adam and I witnessed something truly amazing, and unprecedented as far as we can tell.

In the Spirit World, Joseph Smith learned or became aware of something this last week, possibly last night. Crying or Laughing. The emotion was not able to be discerned, it was nothing like we ever felt before.

The character of The Book of Mormon, The First Vision, and more: everything has changed. The witness is different now in some respects. Assumptions about what had been seen, about what had been translated, all assumptions have fallen away, and the only thing that remains is what is sure knowledge (or first-hand experience) in the Spirit World, or testified by a Holy Spirit to those who are here.

This came with the shocking realization that knowledge in the Spirit World is not privileged far beyond knowledge here on earth. But, it appears that the Holy Spirits can learn from what their assigned people here on earth are seeing, studying, hearing. We are their eyes and ears into this world and its records.

I'm sure this type of learning goes on all the time, but this particular piece (or assemblage) of knowledge was devastating to the system.

This event was foreshadowed twice in the preceding week.

First, Adam spoke a parable about a Rubik's cube representing a persons religion, that even if you have all the pieces, you still have to turn them the right way to solve the puzzle. After telling this parable, the first cube he picked up shattered to pieces.

Then, yesterday during the day, he picked up a Chinese cube puzzle at my place, and said even if we have all the pieces, we have to turn them the right way to see into the depths of the religion. A few minutes later, the puzzle broke (the elastic rope inside of it broke and the wooden cubes all fell off the string.)

Last night this was fulfilled, and the real "cube" of religion in the Spirit World became shattered. All we have left now is pieces. Testimony of our Heavenly Parents, spirits, and instruction in ethics, like that which was taught by Jesus: These things remain. Even Messiah and the Scriptures have come back under evaluation.

And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. (Rev 8:6)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Secret Teachings, their Purpose

For being around as long as Kabbalah has, it has received relatively little opposition, compared to other mystic traditions. I want to contemplate how this relates to the highly Esoteric methods of instruction it employs, and compare it to the Esoteric side of Mormonism.

Mystics, almost by definition, stretch boundaries. They live on the "edge of insanity" where logic and creativity, inspiration and experience, collide. The mystic rarely poses a true danger to others, but "orthodox" thinkers will always feel threatened by their presence because the mystic challenges what has been established.

People who have a mystic experience have to decide what to do with it. If they just sit on it, they aren't going to cause a problem, but they probably aren't going to improve the world either. Some choose to share what they have received, or attempt to share it. This is sometimes part of the revelation, and other times done out of instinct, or desire to help others feel what you have felt.

Sometimes the thing cannot be described owing to technical reasons: An inability to put the experience into words. Other times, it won't be described for practical reasons: To do so would put the mystic in danger. The mystic probably isn't trying to create waves, but merely attempting to fit what he or she has actually felt within the context of what was expected in the context of his or her religious community. So, the secret teaching is born. It can be conveyed in many ways: Obscuring it in parables, expressing it artistically, passing it on to select individuals or successors only, or binding it by oaths.

Early Mormonism applied several of these techniques, especially in regard to Polygamy and the Adam-God teaching. Both of these concepts were introduced by Joseph Smith, Jr., to whom they were given by divine inspiration. Polygamy came out of the bag first, as would be expected since it directly affects family life, and in a close-knit community it would be hard to hide family arrangements for any extended length of time. Adam-God (and the associated doctrine of Exaltation) came out, publicly, at least, after Joseph had already been murdered (quite probably for reasons owing in part to the outside reaction to the doctrine of Polygamy.)

We are left with the last years of "Nauvoo Mormonism," the most mystical and revelatory of all, being also the most secret and mysterious. Oath-bound organizations abounded, such as the Council of Ytfif, the Anointed Quorum or original recipients of the Temple Endowments, and secret sermons and teachings being delivered to Joseph's trusted circle of friends like Brigham Young and Eliza Roxcy Snow Smith (who would later receive yet another additional surname of Young.)

This is a practical, fresh, recent history example of how the very best spiritual light is found in the "darkest" places. Now, apply this back to the Kabbalah and other traditions. If we expect there to be some real meat in a religious, something divine that utterly redefines expectations, where should we expect to find it?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Beth-lehem Ephratah/Ephrath

In Genesis 48:7 we see that Rachel was buried on the road to Ephrath, which is Beth-lehem.

In the Hebrew of this verse, the first time the place is mentioned it is spelled אפרתה (Ephratah), and the second time, אפרת (Ephrath), although the KJV conforms them both to Ephrath.

In Ruth 4:11 Ephratah is again used as a place name in conjunction with Beth-lehem:
And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Beth-lehem (Ruth 4:11, KJV)
This verse uses the spelling אפרתה (well, it also has a leading Vet prefix for "in") but the KJV Translators decided to render it as Ephratah this time.

All of this shows that Ephratah and Ephrath are one and the same, and are at least a specific place. We can see that Ephratah and Beth-lehem were also people:
And Penuel the father of Gedor, and Ezer the father of Hushah. These are the sons of Hur, the firstborn of Ephratah, the father of Beth-lehem. (1 Chronicles 4:4, KJV)
And in 2 Chronicles 11, we find out that Rehoboam built up a city and named it Beth-lehem:
5 ¶ And Rehoboam dwelt in Jerusalem, and built cities for defence in Judah.
6 He built even Beth-lehem, and Etam, and Tekoa,
7 And Beth-zur, and Shoco, and Adullam,
8 And Gath, and Mareshah, and Ziph,
9 And Adoraim, and Lachish, and Azekah,
10 And Zorah, and Aijalon, and Hebron, which are in Judah and in Benjamin fenced cities.
Thus Beth-lehem is a place and a city (possibly built upon that original place), and also a person. I would suggest that the redactor of the Torah knew the place on the road to Ephrath was called Bethlehem, and interjected this into the narrative as clarification, whereas the place wasn't actually established as Bethlehem until well after Rachel's time. Although it is also listed as part of the inheritance of Zebulun in Joshua 19...

This puts me in a neutral position on what Micah chapter 5 is referring to:
1 Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek.
2 But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
3 Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.
Place, or person? I think it could be fairly understood as either. Out of Bethlehem shall come a ruler could mean that this ruler is a descendant of Bethlehem, or maybe that they are a product of Bethlehem's memorial in the city named thereafter, or it could just mean out of the city of Bethlehem which is considered a place of little significance by the thousands of people of Judah.

Rediscovering the Messiah

I've decided to do an interesting study. I'm finding all the so-called Messianic Prophecies in the Tanakh, and re-evaluating them, to see which ones are real and which ones are later readings and which ones just plain don't make any contextual sense. Some of the scriptures I will be examining are only considered Messianic by Christians, because they were referenced as such in the Christian Greek Scriptures.

Genesis 49:10
Verdict: A Prophecy, but certainly not Messianic.
This just predicts the strong leadership of the Tribe of Judah, which has been fulfilled in the past and continues to be fulfilled, in comparison to the other tribes. This may have inspired hope for a Messiah-like figure among the early Israelites. If it did, that's impressive, but it doesn't say anything specifically about one.

Psalm 2 ***
Verdict: Genuine Messianic Text - Not necessarily a Prophecy.
This definitely speaks of Yah's "Messiah."
But anointed could refer to any type of king, so this might have been written primarily about David.

Psalm 118
Verdict: Not a prophecy.
This is a Psalm of praise and thanks for David's kingship. The stone which the builders rejected refers to David himself. In the Christian Greek Scriptures, in Matthew chapter 21, when Jesus references this, he is comparing himself to King David, not suggesting that this was a Prophecy.

Daniel 7 & 9 ***
Verdict: Genuine Messianic Prophecy.
This is certainly about the coming Messiah and very prophetic. It will have to be the subject of a future study because it is very in-depth and widely analyzed by many.

Isaiah 10:12 - 12:6 **
Verict: Genuine Prophecy, perhaps it is Messianic.
The part in chapter 10 is listed here for context. I wonder about 10:27. But, the prophetic figure is clearly introduced in 11:1-2. Chapter 12 is merely a prophecy of the praise Yah will receive for causing the preceding prophecy to come to pass.

Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 **
Verdict: Genuine Prophecy, perhaps it is Messianic.
This prophecy is clearly about a servant of Yah who will suffer. It is important to note that Isaiah does not say that he will suffer for the sins of the people, but because of them.

Malachi 3:1-5 **
Verdict: Genuine Prophecy, perhaps it is Messianic.
This speaks of Yah sending a Messenger, called the Angel of the Covenant, to purify the sons of Levi so that they may offer sacrifice in righteousness again. It is possible that this could be about the Messiah.

Micah 5:1-3 **
Verdict: Genuine Prophecy, perhaps it is Messianic.
This prophecy may refer to a descendant of Beth-lehem Ephratah being a great ruler, or a great ruler coming out of the place known as Ephratah, which is Beth-lehem. I have posted separately on this subject. Regardless of the way that Christians have interpreted this, it is clearly a prophecy that some great ruler will would spring up. It also indicates that this ruler will help in protecting against the Assyrians.

I have not yet been able to reach a conclusion about the following:
Isaiah 63:9
- Saved by the angel of Yah's presence.
Isaiah 41:25 - 42:4 - Servant of Yah to give judgment to the nations. (Referenced by Matthew 12:17)
Zechariah 9:9 - The King comes humbly, riding on an ass. (Ref. by Matt 21:4)
Psalm 22 - Verse 8 is referenced by Matt 27:35. Also, Jesus quoted the opening words of this Psalm, but when he did so he was merely comparing his situation to that of the author of this Psalm, not claiming it to be a prophecy of himself.

The following verses were deemed by the writer of the Gospel of Matthew to be prophecies fulfilled in the life of Jesus:
Verdict: Too simplistic, unrelated, or taken out of context. These are not Messianic prophecies.

Hosea 11:1
- Just a simple comparison. (Referenced by Matthew 2:15)
Jeremiah 31:15 - Too vague to be specific. (Ref. by Matt 2:17)
Judges 13:5 - This is just part of the story of Samson, not a prophecy. (Ref by Matt 2:23)
Isaiah 40:3 - This is an immediate instruction, not written as a prophecy. (Ref by Matt 3:3)
Isaiah 9:1-2 - This isn't written as a prophecy, but could be -- it should be considered in conjunction with verse 6 and 7 of the same chapter. (Ref by Matt 4:14)
Psalm 78:2 - Just a simple comparison (Ref by Matt 13:35) but the understanding of what a Parable is could be very different in these two contexts, because the Psalm seems direct, not allegorical.
Zechariah 11:12-13 - If this is a prophecy, it isn't about what Matthew cites it for. In fact, he cites the wrong prophet (Jeremy, ref by Matt 27:9).

I will add more to this study later.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Healthy Rabbinic Thinking

I quote from the Babylonian Talmud Book 3, Day of Atonement Ch. 4, (emphasis added:)
R. Itz'hak said: I have heard a Halakha about two tongues of wool, one for the red cow and the other for the scapegoat, that one must be of a prescribed quantity and the other need not, and I do not know which it is. Said R. Joseph: Let us see. The wool for the goat which was sent away must be divided into two parts: one part tied to its horns, and one to the rack; therefore it seems that it must be of a prescribed quantity. But the wool for the red cow, which need not be divided, need be of no prescribed quantity. Rami b. Hama opposed: Even that for the red cow must have a certain weight (as will be explained). Rabha answered him: Concerning the weight, the opinions of the Tanaim are different; consequently, no prescribed quantity is needed. When R. Dimi came from Palestine, he said in the name of R. Johanan: I have heard of three tongues of wool: one for the red cow, one for the scapegoat, and one for lepers. I have heard, one must be of the weight of 10 Zuz, one must have the weight of 2 Selas, and one of 1 Shekel, but I cannot explain which. When Rabbin came from Palestine, he explained this in the words of R. Jonathan: That for the red cow must weigh 10 Zuz, for the scapegoat 2 Selas, and for lepers 1 Shekel. (For the red cow, which must have a certain weight, it is 10 Zuz; that of the goat, which must be divided, 2 Selas; and the leper's, which need be neither, it is a Shekel.)
This is a beautiful process, and from what I can see, it runs like a thread through all Jewish rabbinic teaching. Rather than settle on the opinion of one Rabbi, or forcing a consensus, the knowledge and insight of each Rabbi is recorded. The redactor does nothing to promote or demote any particular point of view, but lets the discussion play out and leaves it up to the reader to determine which they agree with. This respect for knowledge and thought processes among the spiritual leaders undoubtedly trickles down into every aspect of life as a great respect for wisdom, understanding and knowledge. There is no Dogma here, there is no cry of heresy, and because of this, the community remains close in heart and mind over thousands of years.

The Phases of General Conference

A friend of mine told me there are three phases of General Conference that a Mormon passes through in their life:

1. You don't have to go, because you'll just fall asleep.
2. Wow! We can watch it in our house on TV, and fall asleep there.
3. Why do we even need to turn on the TV, lets just sleep.

I expect that a lot of people have a similar experience. I think the speakers could spice up their presentation a little by listening to just about any radio preacher or visiting any church with a professional minister, or reading anything written by Brigham Young, or Joseph Smith, or any early LDS sermon. It would also help if they presented all the new information, if any, in one talk so that we aren't listening to the same message over and over each year, and make the rest of it into a "New Members Session."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Hear, O Israel! יהוה is our God, יהוה is One.

I believe Deuteronomy 6:4.
Hear, O Yisrael! Yehvah is our God, Yehvah is One.
I also believe Exodus 20:1-3:
And God spake all these words, saying, I am Yehvah thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
I also believe Moses 1:6, (emphasis is mine:)
And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all.
This puts me at odds with pretty much everyone. I don't think Jesus is God, or if he is considered a god yet, he is not our God, anyway. I do not believe that Jehovah (which I am rendering Yehvah) is Jesus, as some modern Mormons do, as such a theology clearly violates all revealed scripture, latter-day and otherwise. Yehvah, the God of Israel, is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do.

I do believe in the doctrines of deification (eternal progression) and the plurality of Gods, but I believe that worship is to be directed only to the One God. I believe this monolatry is the pure and ancient belief held by Moses, and that it later transformed into the strict monotheism held by today's Jews. So I'm at odds with Orthodox and Conservative Jews as well. I'm not sure how this belief would fare among reform Jews, but I am curious to hear their point of view.

My Background

I'm pretty sure that I feel Jewish. I also feel Mormon, but it is in a way that I don't think most other Mormons comprehend.

I haven't been like this for very long. I have gone through some major spiritual transformations lately. The place I've ended up might be a little bit lonely. So I figured I should blog and see if it resonates with anyone else.

What am I, technically, by the "letter" of the law, as it is said? I am a Mormon. I was baptized into the LDS Church in 1999. But my faith has been tested in some harsh ways. I've survived through three ward disciplinary councils, one for "witchcraft" and two for "conduct consistent with apostasy." And yet, my wife and I have just finally been able to go to the Temple together. I have seen the hand of God protecting us and aiding us in order to achieve this. My Patriarchal Blessing tells me I'm of the tribe of Ephraim. While I say I feel Jewish, I am not formally a Jew, but I have began to study under Rabbi Jonathan Seidel who is the spiritual leader of Or haGan synagogue in Eugene, Oregon.

I haven't blogged with any depth in quite some time. This is because I was trying to live in a very conservative way, so that I could attain what was my most important goal at the time: Going to the Temple with my wife for her own Endowment ceremony. This was important because I wanted us to share the same religious foundations to bring our bond even closer together as a new family. I think it has, even though it's only been a week so far since she went through.

Now that I am no longer a lone man in the garden of Eden, I am going to start blogging my feelings and thoughts more openly again, because I don't want to get spiritually suffocated. That's what I'll be using this blog for.