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Witnessing: Cults and Christianity I

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Question #1:

Hey Dr. Luginbill,

Can you tell me what it means to believe in Jesus Christ? How are we saved? Can you give me the Gospel? As if I've never heard it before. I'm interested in witnessing.


Response #1:

Always good to hear from you. I hope your classes are continuing to go well, and I am keeping you in my prayers.

As to your question, I really would resist putting this into a formula because scripture never does so. All I can do is give you my basic understanding of the issue: God wants everyone to be saved (e.g., 1Tim.2:4), and sacrificed His one and only dear Son our Lord in order for all to be saved (e.g., Jn.3:16); that being the case, all a person really has to do to be saved is "not say 'no!' ".

"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved."
Acts 16:31

And while it is true that "believing" is more than a correct "mental assessment" of the situation, that ideally we as Christ's witnesses ought to present Him as the Savior, the God-man, and His work, dying spiritually in Calvary's darkness in paying the price for every sin everyone ever committed or will, oftentimes new believers may not really have understood anything much at all when saved besides the fact of their "problem" (mortality, sin, and coming judgment) and God's "solution" (Jesus is the One, the "only Name under heaven by which ye must be saved") and they then trusted in Jesus. In the Old Testament, most of those saved did not understand much more than that God would provide the Sacrifice by which they would be saved. They didn't know His Name, how He would come into the world as the God-man, or the means by which salvation would be accomplished, that this Sacrifice is the Person of Jesus Christ and His death for us on the cross yet they were saved even so.

And he (i.e., Abraham) believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Genesis 15:6 NKJV

One of the reasons why we don't need to and in fact should not "sweat the details" to the point of trying to reduce witnessing to a formula is because the real Evangelist is not us but the Holy Spirit. Without Him, no truth could ever reach the human spirit undefiled in any case; with Him, the perfect truth reaches the inner-person in the perfect way, so that all who truly do want to be saved and who are willing to accept God's will, receiving the gift of Jesus Christ, in order to do so are saved every single time. We cannot know what is really going on in the hearts of others we barely understand what is going on in our own hearts. But God understands and perfectly so. Whenever we are privileged to present the Lord Jesus to someone else, if we merely tell them about Him, who He is and what He has done for us, doing so in our own way with the truths and scriptures which occur to us at the time, the Spirit honors our effort and He is the One who makes the process "work".

I have more about all this at the following links:

Evangelism in Principle and Practice

Ichthys and the Contemporary Christian Experience

How to be Saved

Witnessing to cult members

Yours in Jesus Christ through whom and by whom and for whom we live,

Bob L.

Question #2:

Hi Bob,

Be careful about false gospels! All evangelism is done through the Law, and after one has been humbled by the Law, through Christ. Any talk about having a "God-shaped hole in your heart" is extra-biblical, and akin to saying that a parachute is designed to make your flight better. It is not! A parachute is designed to save you from certain death when you are falling. Similarly, Christ isn't here to make our lives better, but to save us from certain death and wrath

There is an excellent book about this, which I strongly recommend that you take the time to read the book titled God's Wonderful Plan for Your Life. Throw away all preconceptions about evangelism when reading this.


Response #2:

From what I can see, this book is reflective of modern evangelicalism in every respect (and is endorsed by and has multifarious quotations from well known evangelicals). I don't see anything in the approach that's unique. Maybe I missed something. When I was at Talbot, the people at Biola in particular used to get all excited about this kind of stuff. What bothers me most about these sorts of publications is that they tend to define Christianity as "gospel-giving". But while evangelism is certainly one of our "jobs" as Christians, the idea of it replacing everything else is a huge mistake that has been rampant in the church-visible since at least post WWII and it has done a lot of damage because "once saved" is not "always saved no matter what" as Messrs. Comfort and company imagine. Not only has the over-focus led to people being saved then lost (since they never got any solid food afterwards), but it has also resulted in several generations of western Christians living out their lives as spiritual infants because they never had the time or the interest to do the real #1 "job": to grow and progress spiritually and then help others do the same, (and because they thought they were already doing it). True ministry, the best ministry, is a result of growth. It does not produce growth as these types usually assume. We should want to share the gospel, but we shouldn't get competitive about it; nor should we define and evaluate our Christian lives by how many people are saved through our witnessing nor by how many we witness to; nor should we get all hot and bothered about the details of witnessing when and if these are not important: the Holy Spirit is the One who gives the gospel, not us. We are only vehicles for the truth, and only the truth we say can be and is used by the Spirit. Only the truth saves, and it will save even if we are deficient in our presentation, provided the person listening wants to be saved. That is because of the Spirit, not because of us. And if we do really want to be "better" at evangelizing, the solution is for us to become "better" Christians, more spiritually mature and genuinely closer to God because God honors those who honor Him; He is not overly impressed with technique.

So if I sound a bit "snarky" here, it is because I have spent way too much time in the company of these sorts. They may have good intentions, and they may be correct on some overall points, but their essential approach is off-balance: emotional, over-focused on one thing, convinced of the importance of self-effort over God's plan, and often doctrinally suspect. For example, the necessity of "giving the Law to unbelievers" is in my view a strange maxim to emphasize. Unbelievers already know they are sinners, they know there is a God, they know they will die, and they know they are not good enough to answer for what they done. In short, they know they are going to hell in their heart of hearts, and telling them they so is not going to be appreciated (nor is it particularly necessary, at least not to emphasize for the reasons just stated). And it is certainly not "good news" (see the link: in BB 4B, "The Gospel").

At least unbelievers know all these things initially, when they are young. If a person has hardened his/her heart to the point of no longer believing these truths, of blotting them out, and of replacing them with their own lies, well, it will take more than me telling them they are going to hell to change their minds about the essential choice they have already made.

There is a place for everything. I wouldn't go out of my way to correct someone using this approach. People make their own choices. That is why we are here. But for any Christian who is interested in actually growing up spiritually and actually making progress in the Christian life and actually coming into the full flower of the ministry God has designed for them in eternity past, getting involved in any aspect of "feel-bad / feel-good / feel-bad" contemporary evangelicalism is only going to slow that person down (at the very least). It is sinkhole of emotionalism which is short on solid truth and tainted in respect to what truth it does profess. It is not social action in lieu of Christianity of the sort one finds in liberal groups; rather it is a subtle sort of works that tends to monopolize a Christian's entire spiritual outlook. That is why the sort of cheer-leading in this book rubs me the wrong way. The one thing I will say is that it is even worse when you have to listen to it in a big hall meeting or at a conference you are required to attend (that really makes my skin crawl).

Solid [spiritual] food is for the [spiritually] mature, those who by [diligent] practice have trained their [moral] perceptive faculties to [properly] distinguish between good and evil.
Hebrews 5:14

If we fear God truly, we will truly be inclined to do things His way.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #3:

Dear Bob,

I must divide this letter response into four sections, which cover Modern Christianity, Apostasy, Nomology, and Epignosis.

[I] Modern Christianity

As someone who is a member of a college campus Christian organization (Intervarsity Christian Fellowship), I have found the exact opposite to be true. Namely, most students cringe at the thought of evangelism, and if you peruse the book I have given you, a statistic which shows up is that an amazing 2% of "evangelical" Christians feel a need to share their faith. If anything, Comfort et al. are a very vocal but very small minority. Therefore it is mathematically impossible that hyper-evangelicalism is rampant in the church visible.

[II] Apostasy

If it is possible for someone to be saved and then become an apostate, then such a scenario is purely hypothetical, because upon closer examination, all apostates that I've observed never had a saving faith to begin. We cannot forget that all believers must have the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and that those who lack such fruit will be cast into Gehenna, whether or not they believe that Jesus Christ is God (Matthew 7:19). Furthermore, in a sobering parable, Jesus tells us that many caught fish, or evangelized Christians, will have to face eternal damnation (Matthew 12:47-48).

In general, false believers can be grouped into the following categories: those who confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord and God of the universe but believe no such thing, those who think that Jesus Christ died on Calvary to heal their heart or "complete" them in some way, those who think that works are necessary for salvation, and those who accept Jesus Christ out of fear, secretly believing that God is somehow unjust in his condemnation. Modern evangelism is somewhat effective in tackling the first and third heresy (emphasizing the Trinity, expounding Galatians, rejecting Mormonism, etc...), with the second and fourth heresies being very common in the church visible.

All apostates I've seen either took Jesus Christ as a way to become "more spiritual" (and thus not understanding the necessary of salvation), or out of fear, which results in the believer secretly believing that God is mean and should instead grade them on a curve.

[III] Nomology

Your view that the law isn't going to help unbelievers, because they already know that they're sinners, misses the point. An abstract understanding that we have all, somehow, fallen short of the glory of God doesn't point to the need for salvation. In fact, my first response when I understood this (back as a dead man in sixth grade) wasn't that I need a savior, but that God should grade me on a curve. Rather, an understanding that you have personally transgressed against God does point to the need of a savior. As it is written, "If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?" (1 Samuel 2:25).

Consider David's encounter with Nathan after marrying Bathsheba. Nathan gave to David a concrete nature of a personal transgression, upon which David was outraged. Nathan then said that David was that man, upon which David understood his personal transgression and proclaimed, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned," (Psalm 51:4).

Now imagine if Nathan instead spoke like a modern evangelical, and said, "God really wants to have a relationship with you, but you have something in your life that's preventing it. That something is sin." David would've replied, "Yes, I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Here, he would have never understood just how serious and personal his transgression is. He likely would've died in his sins.

[IV] Epignosis

Knowledge and studying of the scripture isn't what will remain when we are judged. In fact, knowledge will pass away (1 Corinthians 13:8). The only things that will remain are faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love. And the greatest love is treating others the way you would wish to be treated. And the greatest way of following the golden rule is sharing with them what has saved you from God's just wrath. To say that there are better ways to help people besides evangelism is saying that there are better ways to help people besides loving them.

A sincere believer in doing things God's way,

Response #3:

Thanks for your thoughtful response. We will have to agree to disagree on some points:

1) IVCF and Campus Crusade are typical of what I was talking about and two of the more prominent offenders. I am surprised to learn that you are a member of the former, but if you really do have no problem with the things they do, that is, if you have accepted the validity of "rah-rah-rah" Christianity, well, that explains a lot about why we are coming at this from different perspectives.

I found no "2%" number in the book (which was replete with all other sorts of survey results). And, on the contrary, most Christians in the ambit of evangelicalism I have met feel perpetually guilty on the subject of witnessing because that is how organizations like the one you belong to intend to make them feel. Indeed, that is the whole premise of the book: to get Christians to feel guilty about not evangelizing enough or hard enough or in the "right way, and then to "do it better" by making unbelievers feel guilt more perceptibly in turn.

The bottom line for modern evangelicalism is that if a person witnesses according to their lights that person is a good Christian, and if not, then not. Notice that no one in these organizations takes into account the questions of God's will, the gifts and particular ministries the Lord has for these individuals, and even whether the modern evangelical approach to witnessing is biblical which, in many ways, it is not. One size, one method fits all. In their view, we only need argue about how big the size and the specifics of the method.

The one characteristic that runs through and through these groups and their teachings, moreover, is guilt. So it should comes as no surprise that the "big idea" in this book is how to make unbelievers feel even more guilty than they already do (and in the process making other evangelicals feel more guilty than they already do for not witnessing or not witnessing enough or not witnessing the "right way").

The sort of activity that passes for sharing God's Word known today as "witnessing" is harder for some believers than for others to stomach. Some people have no problem with telling authority figures that they are wrong, even when they have no idea what they are really talking about. I would imagine that "witnessing" to total strangers and telling them that they are going to hell because they violate God's "law" would be no problem for this sort. But consider, will everyone be responsive to this approach? Is this the approach God has designed for everyone? Has not God mixed all manner, type, degree, and color of spiritual gifts in His Church in order to cover every actual need that would ever be faced by believers and potentially responsive unbelievers alike? Isn't it wrong, therefore, to assume that there is only one way to share one's faith, and if it's not being done "my way", then it's as if it isn't being done at all? Aren't we talking about mere methodology here? I suppose if there were scriptures that gave directions on these points we would all have to don our cheerleading gear. As it is, I don't find any of this in the Bible. The fact is, this disturbing mind-set of judging other Christians by how often and in what manner they share their faith is just another sort of legalism, one which seeks to make everyone else tow the party-line often to the detriment of their own faith and spirituality as well as that of those being "witnessed" to.

I do understand that some of this "effort" may have resulted in the salvation of some people (in spite of itself they would have been saved anyway inasmuch as no one is lost in the perfect Plan of God except as a result of their own choice), but how many have been turned off by the often weird behavior this school of thought has perpetrated? Unless God worked around misplaced, legalistic zeal, the answer, in my view, would be "very many". Thank God for the perfect Plan of God.

Do you find any example anywhere in scripture of anyone shoving the gospel down someone else's throat? Do you find any example in scripture of anyone accosting a total stranger and "giving them the gospel" when they had not asked for it or were not gathered in some group that was ostensibly seeking God? John addressed those who came to him; Jesus told the truth to those who came to be instructed; Paul and company went to the synagogues and other gathering places where there was some indication that there would be a responsive hearing. But Jesus told us not cast our pearls before swine.

As I say, there is a place for many things in Christ's Church, and there are many possible methodologies that might be appropriate in a given time and place, but I have my doubts about blind, invasive "witnessing" as the norm. This "force feed" method is one which should be used only rarely, if at all, when special circumstances merit it. But to make it the only method, load it down with guilt-inducing nostrums, and then call Christians who have qualms about it "bad Christians" as these groups do, implicitly and explicitly is legalistic, spiritually dangerous, and spiritually degenerative. That is why this movement may well have done much more harm than good over the years.

Comfort's own statistics show just how true that is. He includes plenty of surveys which show how few people "saved" this way ever amount to anything in the Christian life. That is not a methodology problem, pace Mr. Comfort. That is because the emphasis in the church visible as a result largely coming from the efforts of these groups is focused on their form of evangelism to the exclusion of spiritual growth resulting in wide-spread spiritual infantilism, the hallmark of our Laodicean age. And let me say without equivocation that being enthusiastic and "all fired up" to do a questionable thing in a wrong way is the definition of lukewarmness. That is Laodicea's problem. She thinks she is "rich and well-dressed and discerning", but is really poor and naked and blind.

2) One of the main doctrinal failures of these churches and groups is "once-saved-always-saved-ism". This is a popular doctrine despite the fact that it is not only dead wrong but also horribly dangerous. It is dangerous for individuals, encouraging them to think of sin as not necessarily fatal to their faith, and it is dangerous for groups, leading them into all manner of doctrinal error since this particular false doctrine has a compounding effect. That is because those who believe it have to contort all manner of scriptures that clearly teach the opposite whenever they deal with these theological issues. Comfort is a case in point. It is embarrassing to see him twist and turn to try and explain the "failure rate", and his solution that "they were never saved in the first place" is the fuel which has fired up his false approach of introducing even more hell-fire and damnation and legalistic guilt into his recommended version of witnessing: one false doctrine breeding another. But what does scripture say?

They on the rock [are they], which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.
Luke 8:13 KJV

I have written a good deal on this false doctrine so the above is just a brief intro. Please see the links:

False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security I

False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security II

False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security III

Three False Doctrines which Threaten Faith

3) David is neither here nor there since he was a believer and Nathan is thus not "witnessing" to him in the sense we are discussing. Comfort does have a point (obviously) when he talks about the fallacy of people assuming that their good deeds will somehow make up for their sins in eternity. I'm just not convinced that "preaching God's Law" is the answer. Every human being who has ever lived knows about God, His majesty and His righteousness, from what He has made:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed [it] unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Romans 1:18-20 KJV

This was true before the Law; this is still true today after the Law. The prospect of death weighs heavily enough upon the unbeliever precisely because he/she knows in his/her heart of hearts that he/she is not good enough to stand before the righteous God he/she knows (or knew before self-induced hardening of the heart) exists. Introducing the Law is a confusion of the situation. Only people who have already hardened their hearts to the point of blotting out God's truth altogether are conflicted about the true situation here, and no amount of force-fed witnessing is likely to make them change, even with Comfort's heavy "Law-guilt" approach. That is perhaps the biggest tactical mistake I see with this book. He takes a bad practice, force-fed witnessing, and makes it worse by tailoring it to precisely those people who are not going to be saved anyway (hardened unbelievers), and in the process makes it less likely that those who might possibly respond to the grace of the gospel will do so.

4) I think your characterization of what I said in my last email as saying that there are "better ways to help people besides evangelism" and thus equivalent to "saying that there are better ways to help people besides loving them" is completely unfair. Different people need different help. Only unbelievers need evangelism. Believers need many things, most importantly the teaching of the truth of the Word of God, but they don't need to be witnessed to. My issue with evangelicalism is that it is entirely focused on unbelievers to the detriment of believers precisely the opposite of the biblical emphasis. That is one reason for Comfort's disturbing numbers, not the myth that those who fall away were "never really saved", but the tragedy that they were never really fed with the Word once they were saved. I would compare contemporary evangelicalism to a pet-rescue project which spends all its time and effort enthusiastically rescuing as many animals as possible, then letting them die of hunger and neglect in the big kennel to which they were "rescued".

And to clarify, epignosis and mere "knowledge" are two entirely different things: epignosis is God's truth actually believed and thus made usable in our hearts through the Spirit's ministry. Anyone can have knowledge. Spiritual growth comes only through believing the truth, then acting upon it. If evangelicals actually knew and believed more about what the scripture has to say beyond what it says about salvation, they would better understand salvation as well (necessary reading on this point at the link: BB 4B: Soteriology).

The main thing evangelicals overlook in witnessing, a mistake which Comfort only reinforces, is that the Holy Spirit's role in orchestrating and carrying out the process of bringing the gospel to all unbelievers is so much more important than ours and especially in regard to the question of "how" we choose to do it that it is almost silly even to speak of the methodology of witnessing at all (except when it gets so bad that it is barely true biblical "evangelizing" at all, as in the case we are discussing). It is not about "me, me, me!"; it is about God. The good news is the Father's grace, the Son's sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit's message. God uses us if we are willing to let Him use us. But to the extent that we want to re-write His rules (and have the audacity to call it "Law"), we are only undermining any chance of reward for our efforts (not to mention any effectiveness in our putative service). Doing it His way is what godliness and being "God-fearing" is all about.

So by all means, witness!

You should want and be willing to share your faith with others.

You should take advantage of every legitimate opportunity to do so.

You should consider the theology of the practice, especially if you are gifted in this direction.

You should not force-feed the gospel down the throats of unwilling and disinterested by-standers.

You should not redefine the gospel based on experiential results and surveys.

You should not blame other Christians for being unwilling to compromise grace or act inappropriately.

Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
1st Corinthians 3:13-15 KJV

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #4:

Greetings Sir in the name of our Lord Jesus.

I want to make a prayer request that all the correspondence of this ministry to pray for me and my family for protection from the prophesy of evil men.

I want your word of encouragement. Because i decided to stick with this ministry and focus on how to grow spiritually and i no longer reverence any of my church gathering that has nothing to do with the teaching of the word of God. Because of this the pastor, the wife are now seeing a lot of evil prophecy for me and my family, but i know of one thing that 'who declares and it comes to pass when God has not?' Pls remember me in prayer for deliverance from cult's influence.

Thanks in advance.

Response #4:

Apologies for the delay in response I was out of town visiting family.

I will most certainly keep you and your family in prayer on this subject (and I have added your request to the list of prayer requests on Ichthys; see the link).

I am sympathetic to your situation having undergone a similar reaction from a group I broke with many years ago. Blessedly, we were not in close geographic proximity so that the effects of their nasty reaction to my departure were minimized. I will certainly pray for your protection and also for your continued and continuing progress in the Word of God. In this there is the greatest reward!

So keep running this good race, my friend, and do feel free to write me any time.

Your friend for all eternity in Jesus Christ the Lord,

Bob L.

Question #5:

Dear Professor,

I'm writing to ask you for guidance. I had a conversation with members of a Christian group identity of whom is unknown to me and this conversation left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable and annoyed. About 6-7 years ago when I was entering church for Sunday mass, I was approached by a rather poor looking girl who started a conversation about the Bible with me. The mass was about to start and I said I would be willing to listen to what she had to say and arranged to see her after the service. We met and spoke, she was there together with another woman from the same Christian group. We have spent the whole afternoon together and they were telling me about the lack of basis for the cult of Mary in Catholicism and other problems of catholic doctrine. On the one hand, I was not ready to receive some of the things they said, even if they turned out to be true - I was still utterly convinced that an institution such as RC church, with it's tradition, history and size simply couldn't be wrong. On the other, their evangelism was quite pushy and insistent, we spoke (they spoke mainly) for a few hours and felt I wanted now to be left alone and they still wanted to "talk to me some more" and investigate what the Bible was saying.

In the last couple of days I was clearing my inbox and I came across the email they sent me about Mary. I thought it would be of no harm, and maybe of potential benefit, if I wrote them and said that things have changed in my spiritual life. I wrote a short email in which I mentioned your ministry and got a reply that we could maybe chat on Skype. We had a conversation yesterday evening and I need to say it left a bitter taste.

I thought that we could have a mutually edifying conversation in the spirit of Christian love, but it wasn't the case. I introduced myself (I only saw these people for a few hours years ago) and briefly told them how things have changed for me since we met all these years ago and how in-depth Bible study of your ministry and your guidance changed my life. I was asked whether I attended any meetings and what fellowship I had with other Christians and I said that I found no group or church with which I want to identify myself. I've got an idea of what is available locally, having been a Catholic, having attended Christian Union meetings at the university, having been a university chaplaincy assistant and having friends who attend worship here and there. I responded that I accept fellowship as important, but it is only important to a degree that it brings us closer to the truth, and secondly, although this is not face-to-face fellowship, I consider correspondence with you most valuable and this relationship has certainly been contributing to the fulfilment of its primary purpose.

I was effectively told that it is not fellowship and that I misunderstand the concept. These people, it seems, are very devoted to their way of life and they said how they spend hours every day together and study the Bible together, etc. I responded that we all have different gifts and different role to fulfil in the church. Some may emphasise and need fellowship more than others, I will be honest with you, Professor - I haven't missed seeing people regularly in the church, particularly knowing what is being done in those churches. Apart from your invaluable guidance I have close friends who are Christians and although this is a very small group, merely a couple of people, these relationships are genuine and, like I said, I genuinely don't feel I've been missing out (although I don't assume that what I feel is an indicator of the rightness of my choices). And secondly, when it comes to teaching, I would really have to know more what they do to be able to evaluate it, but there is in my view no way as effective as reading. I cannot even imagine in-depth Bible study in any other way - studies take time to absorb and a lot of fragments need to be read more than once, passages need to be read and re-read, ideally in more than one translation, and in terms of the usage of time, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for even the best sermon or speech to replace study made on one's own, assuming the same time is devoted to both. I don't think my arguments there were considered of any value. I asked them to forward passages to support their understanding of fellowship (the ones they quoted in the conversation didn't seem, in my opinion, to contradict my take on things in any way) and they sent me this:

What Jesus taught his disciples about serving each other in the church and the unity that results from it:

John 13:1-17 and verses 33-35

Matt 20:25-28

Matt 18:15-20

John 17:20-23

How the first Christians put Jesus' words into practice in their daily lives:

Acts 2:37-47

Acts 4:32-35

Hebr 3:12-14

Hebr 10:23-26

James 5:16

God's purpose with the church:

1 Tim 3:14-15

Eph 1:22-23

Eph 3:18-19

How love is connected with one's salvation:

1 Tim 1:5

1 John 3:10+14-19

Having read these, I still stand by what I said to them. Fellowship should help people draw close to the truth, and I feel this fellowship, through you, is present in my life, but also through the very few closest to me. Even early on, when I left the church, my only real doubt was to do with the Eucharist, which had up to date been the domain of a priest. Although I may be wrong here, it is possible that I was called to be a teacher and I need to say, Professor, that days are very short as they are, my days are filled from early morning to evening and I'm trying to do my best to advance as far as possible in my understanding of the Bible (your studies and continuous help, daily Bible reading) and with the study of Hebrew and Greek. I don't want to be harsh to anyone or judge unjustly, but I really don't feel I would be using my time more effectively attending some group meetings, at least that's definitely not the case with the groups that I know.

But that wasn't the only problem and this conversation quickly became very similar to that from the past. I was asked what I'm doing for life and when I responded that I am a football coach, I was told how evil football is and how worldly my job is. I responded that I have indeed picked my career at a time when I was far away from God and it was motivated by my worldly pursuits, but that God has worked things out for good. I only care about the money to the degree that it allows me to sustain myself and I don't want to be rich, famous, powerful, etc. I was still told that I contribute to the spiritual decline of others. I replied that inevitably all jobs are done in the world and we cannot possibly be separated from it and that we need to work and one builds houses and another one bakes bread, to which they answered that men need housing and food, but they don't need football. They typed in my name on Google and, having found my graduate profile, said that I should erase it, or at least portions of it, as I may be encouraging others to pursue a worldly career like my own (I say there that my work in football "came as a result of my passion for the game"). It is true that I would have picked different degrees now (Hebrew and Greek), but I chose what I chose. It is also true that my work did come as a result for my passion for the game and in-depth analysis of it, even if I no longer even watch the game and consider it a means to pay my bills. I also do feel that God has been guiding me, as now that I moved into coaching full time I have more time than when I was a teacher and I can devote more time to study and this has been truly a blessing, but that didn't change their perception.

I was told that we should deny ourselves and that this is what they did, evaluated their jobs, and left many of them, etc. It quickly became apparent that they preach some form of asceticism. They mentioned leaving their families, possibly even spouses. I responded saying that truth needs to be applied in every believers life and that application might differ from person to person. I certainly feel that in the last two years God has been working things out for good and even though I earn my money in football and try to do my job to the best of my ability, with excellence always the objective, I feel that God has been arranging things so as to, for example, allow me study time. I didn't have that time in my previous job and that's probably a good thing, as I would without a doubt have wasted it. I also live a very simple life and distance myself from material possessions. The phrase "application of true" they understood effectively as bending the truth and compromising on it and I don't feel I achieved anything when I said that inevitably living according to the Bible will be different for one who is single, one who is married, divorced, with children, in full-time employment, part-time employment, etc. I think it came out quite clearly that they don't accept the concept of applying the truth.

At one point in the conversation I said that they are quick to make such judgements, having no understanding of my life, my work, etc. We spoke merely over an hour and in that time I was told that my spiritual life lacks fellowship, and argument of brotherly love was used there, but I didn't see much of that when I was effectively judged for my job (and I was judged, whether they would call it as such or not), told to erase my graduate profile and told that there is no such a thing as application of the truth (in the sense that it might look different for different Christians). I said in that conversation that I am willing to accept biblical teaching and if I'm doing something non-biblical, then I want to change it, but then once I've said that they are quick to judge without having an idea about circumstances, I was told that on the one hand I say that I want to accept the true, but when I'm told something, I'm upset. The man who said this (there were two of them - woman whom I met in the past, and a men) quoted Hebrews 12 to support the point that discipline is not always pleasant. They also said they confess sins to one another, which I believe you wrote applies to specific instances when a particular believer is in need of healing and shouldn't be a normal practice in the church.

I ended the conversation asking for them to send me passages so that I can look at them and to be honest, I don't feel like I want to speak to them again. Even though it is not evident, I do consider it likely that their judgements are deep inside stemming from self-righteousness of people who live according to the truth having abandoned everything and distanced themselves from the world in their ascetic or quasi-ascetic lifestyle. I hope this is not the case, but I do feel upset because of their message being effectively "we live the right way, you clearly don't, you should do this, this and this". I They have no understanding or desire to understand particular circumstances in one's life and now, looking back at what went on yesterday I am stunned by the fact that a conversation of fellow believers went that way. We could have strengthened each other, and, who knows, maybe I would consider seeing them, there are so many things we could have done to help each other out, but I found myself at the receiving end of a number of prescriptions (even if they were not always given in the form of an imperative, I'm very clear what they meant by they way they said things) and feel no desire whatsoever to get involved with them.

I thought about how our correspondence started. I wrote to you when still a Catholic, having no understanding of the Bible. Yet you didn't condemn me outright, but rather provided guidance in patience and as a result, changed my life and brought to true faith. I also remember how my friend was discouraged by my continuous efforts from the past to convince her about church and how differently things went a couple of months ago, when in a manner that is miraculous in my view, she came to believe and now studies the Bible, her life having changed as a matter of weeks almost to a degree that it looked it never would. I wonder how much fruit these people are bearing with their evangelizing.

Professor, if there are things I'm doing wrong or truths that I misunderstand or misapply, please point them to me. I know that my path is not standard, but then neither was yours and I certainly haven't felt the direction of my spiritual walk was wrong. Nevertheless, if my understanding of fellowship is wrong, or if my professional life needs adjustments, then, as you know by know, I will want to put things right and I know that I've got such a long way to go. I consider yesterday conversation a failure and one that upset me.

With constant prayer for you and your ministry and in our Lord,

Response #5:

Always wonderful to hear from you, my friend! Not only are you not doing anything wrong in any of your Christian applications as far as I am aware but rather you are doing everything right and to a degree and in a way that is really wonderful indeed. No doubt the Lord has big plans for you, and that also probably explains this experience. Outside of traditional religion which identifies itself as Christian (and this includes most of the big-name Protestant groups as well as Catholicism and the Orthodox church) there are many groups such as the one with whom you had this contact. They are always very insistent and very sure of themselves, and as a result are incredibly effective at turning unprepared believers' good intentions against themselves in the way they tried to do with you. Let me say right away that you handled this marvelously, and if I were you I would count myself blessed that this "inoculation" God has given you was sufficient to prepare you against these sorts of misguided and/or evil organizations and individuals rather than having to contract a full-blown case of the "disease" in order to develop a healthy immunity.

People have mild reactions to antibiotics and vaccines too, so don't worry that the "bitter taste" means anything more than that the Spirit is guiding you to get the full benefit out of this experience by understanding it completely and dealing properly with the negative emotions it dredged up. That is what you are doing, and it is a good thing to do. It is also very important for every Christian, especially for those who will take the lead in teaching the Word of God, to continue to be willing on the one hand to test their beliefs against scripture with an open heart (1Cor.13:5), but on the other to be growing ever more deeply day by day in what they have believed through accepting the truth of the Bible in the power of the Holy Spirit (1Cor.16:13). Done correctly, these two things will reinforce each other. For those who are not solidly grounded in scripture and in believing it thoroughly, however, the attack of doubting so wonderfully launched at you in this experience will easily bear poisonous fruit. Spiritual maturity is in many ways just this ability to discern between what is good and what is evil, for the former is sometimes not exactly what people think it is, and the latter is very often exactly the opposite of what it appears to be. It is the essence of our Christian warfare to fight through to the truth in each and every case, and to hold fast to that truth in what we believe and what we think and say and do thereafter regardless of appearances or the opinions of the world even if everyone and everything may seem to oppose us. For if God is with us, who can stand against us?

[And be] discerning what is pleasing to the Lord [for you to do].
Ephesians 5:10

(9) And this I pray, that your love may abound more and more [as you grow] in your belief in the truth (epignosis) and your application [of it] to all [circumstances], (10) so that you may discern what is best to the end that you may be without compromise and without blame in regard to the day of Christ (i.e., for the day of reward), (11) filled with the fruit of righteousness that is [produced] through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:9-11

Evaluate all things, [then] hold fast to the [things which are] good [for you to do].
1st Thessalonians 5:11

Solid [spiritual] food is for the [spiritually] mature, those who by [diligent] practice have trained their [moral] perceptive faculties (i.e., consciences) to distinguish between good and evil.
Hebrews 5:14

Beloved, don't believe every spirit [of every so-called prophet], but test the spirits [of these "prophets" to see] whether [or not] they are from God. For many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this [test] you [will] know [whether or not a person has] the Spirit of God. Any spirit (i.e., a person or organization) which professes that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but any spirit which does not profess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God. And this [latter] is the [spirit] of the antichrist, which you have heard about, that he is coming, and [even] now [his spirit] is already in the world.
1st John 4:1-3

The last passage demonstrates quite perspicuously that the problem of semi- or pseudo-believers who evangelize for questionable or even non-Christian groups is not unique to our Laodicean day. Although quite prevalent at present and on the verge of exploding once the Tribulation begins it has always been around here in the devil's world to one degree or another and by one name or another. In ancient Israel, paganism was a very clear attack on the faith and the faithful, so clear one wonders why it had such success throughout the pre-exilic time-frame. In the early days of the Church Age, Gnosticism became a real threat, and purveyors of that sort of pseudo-Christianity may be what John had in mind above. Notice he calls the false teachers "false prophets", indicating that these people, these teachers, these groups, give the impression of being legitimate and of being Christian and of being zealous for the truth. The problem is that they are minions of Satan (whether they know it or not).

Another thing that John's experience with a similar cult has in common with your parallel situation is just what occurred to me when I first read your email and before I bumped into this passage: it struck me that you don't mention what they think of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us on the cross, who our dear Lord is and what He has done for us in saving us from death, opening the door of eternal life for us instead by paying our penalty in dying for all of our sins. We are Christians. Followers of Jesus Christ. We love our Lord Jesus with all our hearts because He loved us first and died in our place that we might not die but have life eternal. He is the Rock, the foundation of our faith and all we believe. He is our reason for living and the essence of our faith, for He is the One in whom we have put that faith, believing in Him for eternal life. And we intend to stay faithful to Him. Our life now is all about Jesus. We are here for Him and want to please Him in every way. In contrast to the popular, insipid, and insulting movement "What would Jesus do?", we who are really intent on walking with Him ask only "What does Jesus want me to do?"

As long as the Spirit does not convict our consciences on this score, we can be confident that we are "walking in the light as He is in the light", and that "we have fellowship with one another" (1Jn.1:7). Our fellowship with other Christians starts with our proper fellowship with the Lord. If we are not right with Him, how can we be right with other Christians? And even if we are right with Him, how can we have safe and profitable fellowship with those who are not doing so? Certainly we cannot if the others are involved in some dark and misguided cult or if they are not even believers at all. For as John says in the passage quoted above "any spirit which does not profess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God" (1Jn.4:3). This is test the "Christ test" whereby we may know whether or not those with whom we are conversing are even Christians. On the other hand, the "spirit" which does not love the Lord "is the [spirit] of the antichrist" (1Jn.4:3). Plenty of people talk about "god". But the One true God has given all authority to the Son that the Son may honored and loved by those He has saved with all our hearts and souls and minds and might. When it comes to legalistic cults such as the one to which those who troubled you adhere, the love of Jesus Christ for the world and the love which all true children of God have for Him is always missing and that is very telling.

I have written rather a lot about this sort of thing, and I would be surprised if you haven't come across the material, but it is often the case that for certain things like this there is nothing like experiencing it first hand for the information to sink in. I grew up in the city and as a result did not know much about shooting. When I joined the Marines as a preliminary to the rifle range they showed us movies about the process of shooting and how the weapons worked mechanically, etc., but it didn't make much of an impression until I had the actual rifle in my hands on the range. So a few more words here are not out of place.

There are a number of other important "tells" in the experience you report. The first thing to reiterate is that the very fact that you really do want to please God is an important asset to any cult trying to exploit you. These groups are quite adept at using the open hearts of people who possess them against them. Indeed, it would be impossible for them to get very far with people who have no conscience, no desire to have a relationship with God, people who are entirely happy with this evil world. Satan knows very well how the human heart is constructed, that there is no true fullness or fulfillment for it without God. The devil has therefore done all he can to construct a system of filling that void with all manner of lies and cheap substitutes. That is what his world-system is all about. That is what false religion is all about. But his cleverest ideas and most skillful agents he has saved for those who are very close to accepting the truth (Lk.8:12). For all such "almost Christians" or "under other circumstances might possibly be Christians" or "presently Christian but weak in faith and doctrine", Satan has manufactured a great number of Christian-sounding, Christian-seeming cults. Given the low state of the church visible today in terms of its dearth of doctrine and generally shoddy approach to true spirituality, all manner of questionable practices and ideas have infected even truly Christian groups to such a degree that manufacturing such substitutes which may seem almost indistinguishable in many respects from from those truly Christian groups has become a much easier task. Indeed, the only noticeable difference for the uninitiated may be that the pseudo-groups seem more genuine and caring because of their zeal and dedication. The real difference of course is that the latter do not know Jesus Christ, while the former do they just aren't serving Him as they should be doing.

. . . you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked
Revelation 3:17 NKJV

If I were going to set out to start a cult, I would do many of the things you report about these people. First, I would look for followers along the fringes of churches where the truth is not being taught. Second, when I found anyone who was even willing to give me a hearing, I would latch onto said person like a barnacle without any regard to his/her opinions or feelings or wants or needs. Third, I would use every trick in the cult-handbook to make said person dependent upon me and my group. Fourth, once I had a response, I would force the person to destroy his/her life (by abandoning previous relationships, family, job) so that the dependence would be henceforth complete and irrevocable. Fifth, once I owned this person, once I had reduced his/her identity to what I said it was in terms of the group, then I would exploit him/her in service to me and my cult however I pleased.

How would I manage this? First, I would need to undermine the faith of the person in question by getting him/her to doubt what the church or background he/she presently adheres to teaches or taught. I would, as I say, use his/her desire for truth and "something better", for "fellowship" and meaning against him/her. I would call into question all he/she believed and or felt he/she presently had everyone has doubts and no fellowship is perfect and proclaim that what I was offering was better, good, right, and what God really wants.

My key weapons in pulling off this destruction of another person's independence and free will are authority and guilt. First, in order to accomplish my goal of winning the person over, I have to become the authority. If the person thinks he/she is equal to me, or that he/she has as much truth as I do, I will never succeed. The first thing the devil did to Eve was to get her engaged in conversation. Until there is a dialogue, there can be no supplanting of prior authority. So do whatever is necessary to get people involved in talking. Appealing to their egos is always a good way to start (again, just what the serpent did with Eve by asking her questions as if she were the knowledgeable authority). It doesn't matter if I allow the victim to feel superior at first; it's the end-game I am interested in. Once I allow the target to expatiate at length on his/her beliefs, as it did in the case of Eve this will give me some openings to question where it is clear that said person is not on solid ground for whatever reason. Eve had mis-stated what the Lord had said about the tree of knowing good and evil, and Satan used her mistake to undermine her faith and fear of God entirely. He appealed to a secret desire and gave her an excuse to do what she really wanted to do in the first place: eat and be "equal to God". The fact that the result was not what she wanted but what the "cult leader" wanted is beside the point to Satan and also to whomever is running the analogous operation today.

Yes, exploiting egos is an important technique in this process. The victim who is talking imagines that you are listening honestly when instead you are just allowing the person to express doubts and give you an opening to take his/her belief-system apart. Everyone wants to be 100% sure and certain and zealous about it, and also to be part of a group/movement that has this "real truth" which is "secret" and the "god-like power" that may be accessed thereby. How else can we explain 20th century totalitarian movements, for example? This is the essential "jiu-jitsu" of the cult: take a shaky belief-system to which the person in question is not 100% committed and flip it to yours by promising him/her the ideal in exchange without any wait or true effort simply by ceding his/her will to you and your group. So to pull this off, I will begin next to become the authority, telling the person what he/she is doing right or doing wrong. Not wanting to feel wrong, the person will be defensive, but I will be so insistent that even if the person is a bit resistant I will make headway here. Once I become the arbiter even to a small degree, once the victim accepts even a small bit of what I am telling him/her, it won't matter that I started with true things ("you need to stop getting drunk"), for when my authority is accepted I may then freely move on to questionable things ("you need to stop watching television"), and eventually onto outright wrong things ("you need to stop having any contact with your parents"). In the case of your recent experience, this group bumped into a brick wall with your strong faith and knowledge of the truth so they over-reached as a result and pulled out all the "big guilt-guns" right away, tipping their hand entirely.

As mentioned above, guilt is perhaps the most powerful weapon such groups have when it comes to those who do have something of a good heart and who are in some ways interested in the actual truth. Indeed, this is the place where genuine Christians are, in my observation and experience, most vulnerable, even if they know something of the truth of the Word and even if they are on the right track. We fear God. What if someone pretends to be speaking for Him? What if said group or person tells us that we are actually running afoul of what God really wants while they are the true believers? No one who truly loves God wants to be on the wrong team. Naturally, even immature believers who have spent very little time and effort on the Bible are not going to believe that such is true of themselves "right out of the box". When a person is identified as belonging to this category and when said person is willing to engage in the conversation - which is really aimed at undermining their present beliefs, true or not then the next step is to identify beliefs which are shaky or practices about which the person may be made to feel guilty so as to use them as wedges or chinks in the armor to exploit. These are easily discovered easily enough just from letting the person do some talking.

And of course there are plenty of good standbys. The one you report, namely, "fellowship", is a perfect one. Ever since the beginning of the Church Age and throughout the Bible Christians are "meeting together" and having "fellowship". Moreover, in the tradition of the church-visible attendance in a dedicated building for just such "fellowship" has more than almost anything else come to be seen by many as the quintessential manifestation of one's Christianity. This is so much the case that even for those of us who know better, who understand that Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ, that our true "fellowship" is with the Father and the Son, that our meaningful Christian relationships must be based on the truth, its pursuit and its ministration, and that traditional dead forms often cause "more harm than good" (1Cor.11:17; cf. Amos 5:21), we can still easily be made to feel guilty about not going to one of these pointless and potentially harmful fellowships. Even today, for example, I personally can still be made to feel very uncomfortable by the question "Where do you go to church" as if I am a bad Christian or no Christian at all if I do not have a ready answer, if cannot say "I am a member of ___ church". What I would like to say in such cases is "Instead of going to a place where God is only given lip-service, where it's all about music and process and ritual and emotionalism, where there is little of God's truth being proclaimed and where walking with Jesus Christ in a genuinely biblical way is not at the heart of center of everything that is done, I go to a place where the Word of God is taught and believed and lived as the sole point and purpose of the fellowship" "Oh! Where is that!?" "I don't know yet, but in the meantime I have found a pretty good substitute online".

Like you, my friend, I find that the fellowship I have with you and other wonderful believers I have met in the course of this ministry so far exceeds anything I have ever experienced in any traditional or non-traditional "brick and mortar" church that there is absolutely no comparison and I thank God that He has also given you good Christians and growing Christians to commune with outside of the phony traditional mode. It speaks to the incredible power of negative and misplaced guilt that even so it took a long time to come to terms with answering the question above with confidence. But we are on the cusp of the end, and the time for compromise has long since ended. We have been given the powerful new wine of the truth should think twice about pouring it back into old wine-skins since we know very well what would happen: there is nothing in those old wine-skins to compare with what we have, and if we try to mix the two only disaster will result.

Again, my friend, I commend you for your solidity in faith and truth, and for your supple heart for Jesus Christ our Savior.

In Jesus our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #6:

Dear Professor,

Your replies are always eagerly anticipated and this time it was certainly the case, since negative emotions appeared as a consequence of my conversation. I've done it many a time, but let me genuinely express thankfulness for your continuous support and guidance. You wrote back promptly and addressed what occurred to me very thoroughly. It has been most helpful and heartening. I suppose it's difficult for me to express gratitude and words don't capture that, particularly in an email perhaps. What can I say after for over two years you have been teaching me, answering my questions, and helping spiritually. My life changed. Our correspondence now amasses many pages of invaluable teaching to which I constantly refer back to it and you've got others that seek your guidance, your family, your work and all the inevitable earthly commitments. Not having anything to offer in return, I pray for you daily, that God may give you everything you need in your inspirational ministry and your life.

What happened will indeed serve as a vaccine. I have read about these issues on your website, but it is like you wrote about your experience with shooting - experience saturates some words with meaning. When the conversation starts, it is sometimes difficult to recognize certain mechanisms, particularly when one assumes a good intention from the other side, or at least doesn't assume an evil one.

It didn't take long to work out that things weren't right, but study was not in vain - years ago I had no spine, but it isn't the case now, even if I've got a long way to go. When I look back what went on, I only grow more and more amazed at this conversation. How could things possibly turn out this way between people who proclaim to be Christians? How could a dialogue become take such a direction? How can people jump into telling someone, whom they don't even know, what to do? I brought it to an end when I realized there is no point continuing, having recognized that these people were disciplining me without having an idea about me and my life. I was struck by the fact that in this conversation there was no love or mutual edification, one would have thought there are so many aspects of faith that believers could talk about, and yet all that happened was them picking up on a few points were I was "wrong" and they were "right" and pushing their view. Your point about mentioning our Lord Jesus Christ states the matter even more clearly, as He is the core of our faith. Beyond being told that my life is not about what I want, but what Jesus wants from me, and they clearly very well knew what that was, our Lord was absent from the conversation, and His work not mentioned even once. This truly is amazing.

What you wrote explains in depth the mechanisms involved in this process. One of the most frightening parts of all this is the sense of self-righteousness through which such people usurp the right to tell others what to do. It is also true that they went for the "big guilt-guns" and I wholeheartedly agree that guilt is such a powerful weapon. I experienced this when still in RC Church, where they have all the right answers too and much of my motivation when I was still there was based exactly on this.

If these people really wanted to understand your ministry and our fellowship, they would understand it, but there was no desire on their part to do so. So often when I mention Bible study and emphasise it's importance, similarly in the case of the role of teaching and understanding biblical languages, even to fellow Christians, I'm being taken for a scholar that forgot about the "real" life and is clearly getting the balance wrong, when it is all too evident that the word of God is missing in the practice of so many believers. How can one do the right thing, if one doesn't know what the right thing is? How can one know what the right thing is if one doesn't understand the word? How can one understand the word if one doesn't study? Even more in the case of the study of biblical languages. Similarly with fellowship, which was one of the primary targets yesterday. This time, for a change, it wasn't about music, emotions and playing games together, this time it was about asceticism of a group of people who feel only they follow our Lord in truth.

Professor, I thank God for crossing my path with yours and pray for you daily.

In Jesus our Lord,

Response #6:

You're so very welcome, my friend. And I want to know what great spiritual encouragement I receive from you in your continued and continuing growth in the Lord.

But as to having something to offer you are praying for me in a sincere and dedicated way. Believe me, that is what I need more than anything else. Dedicated prayer on one's behalf is something that money can't buy and since these prayers reach the ears of the Lord Sabbaoth, they are much more valuable than anything on this earth.

I truly appreciate you, and especially your prayers.

Apologies in advance for the long delay on you latest set of questions. I have been out of "full speed mode" for some weeks now for a variety of reasons, but hope to get back into the groove next week.

Your friend forever in Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #7:

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

Also a translation question: some years ago a friend of my wife who was a Jehovah's Witness talked me into a Bible study. They raised many interesting points but we fell out one day when they read John 4:24.

"God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."

I was following along with my KJV and they read "...must worship him WITH spirit and in truth." I stopped them and pointed out that "with spirit" did not mean the same thing as "in spirit." They disagreed saying that it meant the same thing. Sadly, I pressed the point (graciously, I thought) but they were offended and that was the end of the Bible study. I still believe there is a significant difference in meaning - at least in English. How would you translate that verse?

Finally, and this is the most important question, I believe. I have a friend with whom I correspond who apparently had some very bad experiences with a stepfather and what was presented to him as Christianity when he was a child. He has now started on a course of belief which is occult based, as I understand the occult, though he would never accept that. He has progressed to a very egocentric belief that, as near as I can tell, is equivalent to believing in "the force" as portrayed in "Star Wars." I have tried to gently point out elements from the Bible that I hoped would get him to think without success. I even related some of my early and frightening experiences with the occult which he refused to believe. I don't seem to be able to get through to him.

Your response to the antagonist in today's posting was gracious, reasoned and patient. I wish I could approach my friend with as much grace but I don't know how to proceed. Any suggestions or guidance you can offer to help me get through to him would be appreciated. I'm wondering if I should knock the dust off my feet and move on or continue trying to get through. I apologize for the vague and ill framed question but, without writing a book, that's about the best I can do. More generally, the question is how do you get through to someone who doesn't want to hear and should you keep trying?

Thanks for your patience and help.

In Jesus Christ,

Response #7:

On "in spirit" vs. "with spirit", what we have here in the Greek is a noun in the dative case, and the dative case in Greek admits of a wide range of possible translations with a correspondingly large number of possible English renderings. However, while many things are often theoretically possible in language, in fact there is usually not much ambiguity in a given context. For example, if I write "the two boxers really got it on", it is conceivable that someone digging up my letter 20,000 years from now might say with some justification "get it on" may refer to donning clothes" but would be wrong to conclude "so this means they put on some sort of over-garments before they fought". We have a similar case here: "worship with the spirit" is nonsensical to my mind. What would that mean? However, "worship in spirit" is very clear: "spiritually", "in the power of the Spirit". Cults always develop their own jargon as a way of seeming at once mysterious and also more learned, but sometimes their gobbledygook is just meant to obfuscate and deprive of any apparent sense some passage with a clear meaning that damages their doctrines.

On your situation with your friend, I am sure that I am correct in saying that there are few Christians on this planet at present who care about their own salvation who do not also have at least one friend or acquaintance or co-worker or family member whom they would dearly wish to come to Christ or about whose salvation they are very concerned. In such cases, there will always be some worry and frustration unless and until the person begins to "straighten up and fly right" in an unmistakable way. There are no magic words because we all have free will. We cannot reach into another's heart and throw the lever to "yes" instead of "no", much as we may wish to do so. Everyone has to make their own fundamental choice about where to spend eternity. What we can do is to do as Christ would have us do: continue to act in love, continue to pray, continue to set a truly Christian example, continue to tell the unvarnished truth if ever and whenever an opportunity arises for us to do. And in my experience and observation the best thing to do is to remember to make every shot count on the latter: there may be only one or two really prime opportunities when said person opens up to the possibility, and we need to be spiritually ready, doctrinally prepared, and confident in the Lord to say pithily just the right thing at just the right time never forgetting of course that it is the other person's choice combined with the Spirit's power and illumination that does all the work: we are merely the go betweens. God honors what we have in our hearts, and He also hears our prayers.

Best wishes in this noble endeavor.

In the Name of the One who died for all that all might have eternal life, Jesus Christ our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #8:

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

Thank you for being so patient with me and taking the time to answer me.

After all these years, I never connected Psalms 55 with Genesis 10. After you pointed it out, it makes perfect sense, but it, like many other things, completely eluded me. Thank you. Where in that sequence, would you place the book of Job?

As far as JW goes, I'm relieved that you call them a cult. They share many of the same characteristics as the occult mystery schools but I was reluctant to write off people I considered good with such broad a brush. That you see the same things I've seen is a relief and an help. It raises the question if, like my friend, one is happy to go down that road, is it my obligation to dissuade them beyond making them aware? Like most organized "corporate" religions, they seem to have made their own interpretation of the Bible and use that as a justification for their beliefs which makes me suspicious. I can rebuke them, but should I try to change them? As I read the Gospels, and in fact, the entire New Testament, I can find no examples where Christ or any of the apostles pressed themselves on anyone. They spoke and then answered those who were drawn. Should I do any differently? But, you've already answered that. Still, it's frustrating to listen to what, to me, is obviously wrong while I wait to take my shot. I do wish there was a magic bullet.

I still believe that Jesus meant what he said in that, "All who believe in me shall not perish..." and that those who are trapped by tradition or culture into a corporate religion will also be saved if they do Jesus' commandments and believe in him. (It does raise the question of Catholics and their worship of the Virgin Mary as a deity. Or calling a priest "father" and whether they are actually obeying His commandments by doing so.)

It helps to have the fellowship of believers to keep one on an even keel. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that.

I might add that I was happy to hear you came from Mennonite stock. I don't know if you accepted the faith or not, but I learned early on that any of the old German orders were people I could trust. I buy much of my food from Mennonites for that reason -- other than I like them, they raise great food and are good folk. I grew up in Southwestern Ohio amongst a number of the old orders and respect them. The older I get, the more my respect grows, though I can't say I ever completely understood.

Yours in Jesus Christ,

Response #8:

Always a pleasure to hear from you. My dad was a Presbyterian minister so that was the milieu in which I grew up; I later cut my teeth under an independent evangelical ministry, and after that went on to a non-denominational evangelical Protestant seminary.

The book of Job was written by Solomon (almost certainly), but the events described therein took place much earlier, perhaps in the days of Abraham, give or take a few centuries judging from internal evidence, significantly Job's age of 140 (Job 42:16) but definitely after the exodus (the Job 9:13 reference to Rahab's destruction is speaking about the annihilation of the army of Pharaoh in the Red Sea; cf. Is.51:9-10).

The JW's share all the characteristics of a cult. Please see the link: "Cult Characteristics". The fact that there are "good people" in the organization only proves that the cult is effective in its methodology. Rotten people are usually very poor candidates for cults. People who are conniving and selfish are generally not prone to feelings of guilt the exploitation of which is one the main weapons in the cultist arsenal of emotional manipulation which first ropes in and then controls the proselyte.

Roman Catholicism is a difficult thing to parse. In many ways it is so amorphous; and certainly so many R.C.s believe all manner of things different from the teachings of their church that it would be difficult to find a brush broad enough to cover them all. That particular church exercises its influence more through ritual and tradition than mind-control. As I often remark, while I am personally agnostic about the possibility of individual R.C.s being saved (only God knows the heart), every ex-R.C. I have ever had this conversation with tells me the same thing, namely, that they were not born again while in that church and in their opinion it is impossible to be a member of that church and be born again (certainly it would be hard to see how anyone could believe everything that church teaches and still be saved).

I would certainly not tell you not to do anything regarding these individuals for whom you are concerned. We are called to minister to the Lord, and every member of the Body of Christ has his/her own gifts and own unique ministry. Part of the reason we all ought to embrace spiritual growth for all we are worth is that it is only after growing up to spiritual maturity (and being tempered thereafter by circumstances that test and confirm our progress) that we are likely to identify and come fully into the work Christ has for us here on earth. There are no doubt those who are called to the noble task of rescuing the deceived from the fire by ministering God's mercy to them (Jude 1:23). Apologetics is not my personal forte, but it is indeed a noble calling and if this is what you feel drawn to by the Lord then you should by all means at least consider it (see the links: "Cults and Christianity IV"; "Cults and Christianity III"; "Cults and Christianity II"; "Cults and Christianity I").

Whatever our gifts, serving Jesus Christ is the most important thing we can do in this life. We are here to love Him back, for He loved us first and died for all of our sins. That love is manifest in love for His Word (growth), love for our brothers and sisters in this world (applied truth), and love demonstrated in ministering the truth to them (ministry). This is the path of love, the path which leads to great eternal reward and a "well done!" from our Master when we stand before Him on that great day of days (Mk.4:26-28).

In hopes of rejoicing with you when you receive you rewards!

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #9:

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

Thank you for the links. They were most helpful. Still, it's hard for me to see how Catholicism, including eastern orthodox, is anything less than a cult or, at least, a mystery religion in the old tradition. The Pope calls himself the "Vicar of Christ," as though we needed a substitute, when the Bible specifically warns against that. He wears the mitre of Dagon and carries a staff reminiscent of the Egyptian Pharoahs. The priests are called "father" in contradiction of the Bible's clear instruction. They sell forgiveness of sins. Catholics pray to statues and make mystery signs to the same.

My wife was raised Catholic and left in disgust. Having had to sit through the entire rosary, I couldn't argue with her. She did discover the Bible and Christ through a fundamental group who had no official name and a friend who took a special interest her. I was raised Methodist and left that group when I was finishing high school for a variety of reasons. In fact, I've not been able to join a church since because of unusual notions of Christianity that seem to have absolutely no connection with the Bible. Methodists now congregate around communal coffee pots during services which seems to contradict everything a church is supposed to be.

Perhaps, I'm too critical but I can't help but think of Satan's first lie and see that same subtle twisting of truth in most corporate religions today. From what I've experienced, Judaism is no different. Be that as it may, it's why I appreciate your focus on the Bible and your willingness to share your knowledge and understanding with us.

I apologize for understanding you were of Mennonite stock. I read that part of your last email post a little too quickly. I meant no disrespect. I have had nothing but good experiences with Mennonites. The old German orders are groups that have many of the characteristics you've described as cultish, but it's hard for me to see them that way. People are free to leave if they choose (though not without mighty exhortation.) They separate themselves - but for reasons that strike me as sound. That some, like the Amish, live today as they did 200 years ago only strikes me only as an eccentric choice and probably a good thing preserving the old ways should we ever find ourselves without modern conveniences. I don't see anything in the Bible that would prohibit their lifestyle. What's your opinion?

Thanks for taking so much time with me. I imagine now is a time when you're preparing fall classes, so I appreciate the time you take even more.

Sorry to bombard you with questions. I have a copy of the Farrar-Fenton translation of the Bible which I don't often read. I've settled on the KJV of 1611 because, in spite of the Elizabethan English (with which I'm comfortable,) it is unchanging, has a wealth of tools, like Strong's Concordance which is easily abused but helpful - and I trust it.

The Farrar-Fenton translation, though has some interesting elements and emphasizes the poetry of Isaiah and Job. Are you familiar with this translation? If so, what do you think of it?

In Jesus Christ

Response #9:

It's no problem at all very good to hear from you. I do hear what you are saying about the R.C. church and about traditionalist churches generally. I certainly am not inclined to disagree with anything you have to say about them. This ministry is on the internet for precisely these same reasons, namely, on the one hand a desire to help supply the gap in the lack of substantive teaching abroad in our age of Laodicea, and on the other hand the fact that very few groups out there of "church size" are truly interested in such a ministry. Being online allows single individuals wherever they might be to access this teaching in spite of the fact that there may not be many like-minded Christians in their area. My experiences with my relations in the Mennonite church have always been positive; they are good people and good Christians. My sense is, however, that they and related groups are not as Bible-teaching focused as I would wish to be (but that is a complaint I have about virtually all established churches of which I am aware).

As to the Ferrar-Fenton version, I am not a user of that particular Bible. What I have seen of it would cause me to label it an interpretive translation. Naturally, all translations are interpretive, but certain versions go more "out on a limb" in explaining in their renderings what passages "actually mean" as opposed to sticking more "literally" to the word for word phrasing of the Hebrew and Greek. The latter approach has its problems too, so the proof is always in the pudding, as they say. The 1984 NIV is the best interpretive version I know because it actually produces "real English" (Fenton-Ferrar often leaves one scratching one's head until one sees what they are rendering from the Greek or Hebrew). The KJV is good because it is "creatively ambiguous", that is, it leaves the interpretation up to the reader as much as possible. But KJV has other problems: outdated language (which is for that reason often misunderstood), an inferior text used for the version (which has resulted in false interpolations being printed as if they were scripture: everything in Mark past 16:8, for example), and misinterpretations which arise from just this desire to be "literal" where what is "literal" is actually also wrong in terms of meaning. So I always counsel Christians to make use of several versions and to compare whenever they wonder about a passage. This exercise, by the way, also makes clear the need for all of us to access good teaching in addition to personal daily consultation of the scriptures. For more on all this please see the links: "Read your Bible"; and "Some comments on the KJV".

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #10:

You raise an interesting point about reading and comparing other translations of the Bible. But, the problem for me is that I would never know what is accurate and what is distorted since I know none of the languages of the Bible. As you pointed out in your comments on the Ferrar-Fenton translation, where I think liberties were taken for the sake of the poetry and scansion, the interpretation seems to obscure the meaning. I could arrive at tat opinion by comparison the the KJV. I don't know Hebrew or Greek, sadly, but I do know enough French to recognize a good translation of "Cyrano" but not nearly enough to judge a translation of Villon. So, how could I possibly judge the Bible. It's why you are such a blessing to me.

I am loath to trust committee decisions. If I'm to believe what I read about the selection of the scholars and the arguments that ensued in the King James translation, it seems to me it was as thoroughly vetted as possible in 1611. Errors though there may be, are there really any more or less than any other translation? If I were to use only the KJV as my standard, would I be any less mislead than relying on the NIV version. Or the RSV? Granted, few today would know what a shambles was or how to hough an horse or why, but, also as you point out, scripture will verify itself. Are those two details critically important to understanding what God expects of us? (I'm not sure they're not. Houghing, perhaps, is.) The "new and improved" KJV seems to substitute "hocking" in Joshua 11:9. (And Joshua did unto them as the LORD bade him: he hocked their horses, and burnt their chariots with fire.) Which makes less sense, to me, than houghing.

I'm not trying to be argumentative - you get more than enough of that as it is. This is just one man's view presented for your criticism and exhortation.

Thank you for your comments about the Mennonites. Since I've never been inside, I have no idea of their approach to the Bible. I only know that their fruits seem to manifest the best of Christian behavior.

Your links on the church of Laodicea are more troubling to me. I worry that I may be too "lukewarm." I believe that God has a role in everything we do in our daily lives regardless of whether we act "holy" or not. In fact, I don't believe acting "holy" has any value at all. If He knows our heart and what we need before we do, then we don't need elaborate rituals or redundant prayers; we need only ask for guidance and it will be there as we need it. Since I have no "church" direction or ritual definition, I have to rely solely on the Bible and the Holy Spirit - which I've discovered responds when we need it - not necessarily when we want it.

Frankly, I've given up trying to find a "church home" as many call it. I've not found one of them that doesn't say or do something in direct contradiction of what I read in the Bible. You, Dr. Luginbill, have become my minister (I'll apologize right now - but I've found no other source that is as Bible based as you.) I may not totally agree with what you say - or more accurately, I may not understand what you say, but I've read nothing from you or on your site that doesn't provide me a foundation for growth. I don't believe anyone can do it completely by himself and, that sooner or later, he has to reach out for the broader understand of those who proceed him down the road to knowledge. I won't find that in the Methodist or RC rituals so I truly appreciate your willingness to deal with people like me.

My understanding of the meaning of "The Church" or "The Bride" is the body of believers who do the commandments of Jesus. Perhaps I'm wrong, but that's what I can understand from my reading of scripture. I'm counting on you to point out the errors of my thinking.

Yours in Christ,

Response #10:

Thanks so much for this thoughtful and encouraging email. I would certainly agree with your proposition to the effect that Jesus' true Church is defined not by buildings or organizational structure or humanly-defined membership and certainly not by tradition and ritual but by the Lord: He knows who are His (2Tim.2:19). I will certainly try to prove worthy of your trust. One of the main reasons why this ministry is on the internet is precisely so that those who have decided to take the "best part" (Lk.10:42) rather than settling for pottage may have enough to sustain them spiritually things good and wholesome on which they may rely; things which actually contribute to their spiritual growth. The other main reason for the location of this ministry is the fact that I never personally found any group of sufficient size interested in the teaching of the truth as their reason for assembling not in one place, anyway. Our Lord has gathered to this ministry a number of dedicated believers like yourself from the four corners of the earth (literally) and a large enough number to keep me quite busy too! But I wouldn't get down on myself if I were you. Your interest in the Word of God and your dedication to it is precisely the "fire" the Spirit looks to kindle not any sort of false emotional high that has turned to depression by Monday morning, but a genuine, sustained, quiet but powerful zeal for what our Lord really wants, namely, learning, believing, applying and sharing His truth (Mk.4:26-28). That is why we are here, and that is the basis for our reward (or rebuke) at Christ's judgment seat.

You are fighting the good fight of faith the right way. Keep on fighting it steadfast until the end, knowing that Jesus is well-pleased with your sincere efforts for His Name.

In the Lord Jesus Christ who is our all in all,

Bob L.

Question #11:

Hi Bob

This is an interesting issue. One of our local churches will host a seminar about the "Key of David". I am not sure who will lead it yet (all hush hush) but it seems to be a promotion of a spiritual warfare campaign to claim back or town from some or other local demonic powers.

They seem to be promoting a type of Gatekeeper theology with special apostolic authority to open and close portals of power. Also they seem to believe they can command any and all demonic forces by decree. I suspect they want to speed the day of the Lords return through this activity.

To be honest I have occult teaching background as a young man and some of this seems familiar. It seems to me as if believers are being conned into a sort of Christian occult. By this I mean a set of teaching which promotes the revelation of secret and special teachings which promote vigorous action directed towards satanic devices and structure. They claim to have received these teachings via special revelation and prophecy. The ordinary believers , like me, dont have access to these revelations for some reason. To be honest it bothers me since many believers I know are soaking it up. I have found that the answer to any kind of presumed demonic attack is to draw closer to the Lord and trust in Him and nothing else. I cannot think that anyone would be so hyped that they would think they could stand against these beings. Even the Lord, when tempted in the desert, did not curse or malign Satan but rebuked him with respect and with words from scripture. I suspect they are playing a fools game.

Have you heard of this Keys of David" theology and could you point me in a sensible direction at all?

Response #11:

No, I have never heard of this particular type of false teaching, but the whole idea of exorcism is one which has gained considerable popularity over here in the states too in the past few decades. It seems to me that you have analyzed things in precisely the correct way. Anytime people have to go "beyond scripture" and utilize gifts which are not being given, or claim revelation that is not actually from God, or arrogate to themselves authority even the apostles didn't claim, then I think it is fair to say that every true Christian should give such things a wide berth. It is classic cult technique, moreover, not to "tip one's hand" about just what is meant, or what will be taught, or where the authority comes from. It is classic cult technique to claims secret writing or doctrines to which "only the special few" have access (see the link: "Cults"). It is also very common whenever a genuine love for the truth begins to perish, that such things which seem "fun and exciting" but which are no part of the truth become prominent.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers.
2nd Timothy 4:3 NKJV

The particular phenomenon you relate is actually ancient. It is decried in both the Petrine epistles and Jude:

Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!"
Jude 1:8-9

Jude is speaking here of Gnostics who in a manner very similar to what you relate sought to gain "power" over demonic "aeons" and were thus ever dabbling in things for which the Bible provides no mandate (please see the link: Q/A #4 in "Preaching to the Spirits").

We do live in times of intensive spiritual warfare. But our job as Christians is not to try to see or interact with things we cannot see and have no business whatsoever interacting with; our job is to advance spiritually through the truth of the Word of God. That is the "spiritual combat" Jesus has given us to fight. Please see the links:


Demon Influences

Spiritual Warfare II

Spiritual Warfare

Angelic Issues III

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #12:

Hello Bob,

I have not written for some time. I hope this email finds you and your family in particularly good health and good cheer.

I have never had a problem understanding the, " Trinity" but I do find myself challenged quite often to back up my belief, mostly to Jehovah witnesses, who are really lovely people, and are welcome at my home anytime, but I often go blue in the face explaining to them why I do believe in the "Trinity". I have "pulled everything out of the hat", so to speak, trying to explain it to them. I would really like them to know and understand the truth, and to read the bible in harmony with them and not in argument which does not serve our spiritual growth. I have read everything on your Ichthys site as well to try and get them to understand. Is there anything more that you have not mentioned yet that may help them? I would be most grateful.

I am also curious to know why the Jewish Rabbi and Scholar named Moses Maimonides substituted the word echad for yachid regarding the Jewish position about Gods unity. This happened shortly after the rise of Christianity, where the Jews replaced "echad" with "yachid" in Deut 6:4. "Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one." Where they worried that Echad, which was chosen by the Holy Spirit may back up an argument for the Christians? Do you have anymore knowledge why they did this.

Thanks, In Jesus Mighty name

Response #12:

Great to hear from you! And good to hear that you seem to be doing so well and good for you too that you are using your gifts to minister the Word in this difficult field of witnessing to those who are caught in the toils of such organizations.

As to the Trinity, there are a lot of things at Ichthys, but you seem to have found them (the latest thing I have posted is "Explaining and Defending the Trinity and the Person of Christ II", and it has links to almost everything else on the topic at Ichthys) As to how to deal with JW's et al., I'm not sure I have an answer for that. These people may be nice, but in terms of beliefs it is a case of a pleasant exterior but hardness beneath the surface. Also, it is usually never successful to deal with these folks one on two better to get the more reasonable seeming one of the pair "one on one". That way, the person in question will not feel nervous about espousing any view or considering any view that the more hardened one of the pair might then "report back" to the group. That is the way these organizations work. God loves every person; cults, however, have their own rules, their own defenses and their own momentum. Just as God deals with us as individuals regardless of affiliation, so also that is the best way to approach witnessing or apologetics with anyone belonging to a died-in-the-wool cult such as the JW's are. That is to say, the person may be "nice", and the person may even be open to genuine discussion, but the organization most definitely is neither, so that until there is some separation of the one from the other, at least temporarily, little in the way of positive results can be expected. Prayer is a powerful weapon here. No one who is not of Jesus Christ in this world really has peace in their hearts, so that for those who really do want that peace of salvation, there will be some inclination to find it, and our prayer support is part of God's process in helping such people to do so.

Here are a few more links that may be of use in this regard:

Evangelism in Principle and Practice

Ichthys and the Contemporary Christian Experience

How to be Saved

Witnessing to cult members

Apostles and Evangelism

And here is something previously posted on the JW's:

1) Jehovah's witnesses: This group claims to base its beliefs on the Bible (as many cults do), but relies heavily on their own unique translation of scripture for key points of their doctrines (i.e., the New World Translation; see the link). I can tell you from personal inspection that it twists every scripture that has to do with the divinity of Jesus Christ (for which see the link: "Where does the Bible teach that Jesus is God?"). That is because one of fundamentals of this cult is to deny the Trinity. For them, officially, Jesus is a creature (an angel come in human form), and not God. Whether or not every JW believes this nonsense is moot, but this group does a "good" job of making sure that whatever one of their members expresses adheres to the party line as much as possible (that is why they are never on their own when "witnessing" but always accompanied by a "minder").

And on 'echad, that is indeed the word which occurs in the Hebrew Bible. I don't know of any Hebrew Bible that has yachidh instead of 'echad at Deuteronomy 6:4. Please see the link: "The Hebrew word for 'one' (`echadh) and the uniqueness of God.".

Best wishes for your success in battling for the truth!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #13:

Thank you again Bob for taking the time to answer. I'm going to ponder on this for a while as I really just want the truth, no matter what the truth is.

You're a very generous person for the Lord. I will share with you a little story about how important time is. 20 years ago both my mother and I came out of severely physically abusive marriages. We both divorced our husbands around the same time, within a few years apart. Both of us had been abused for most of our lives. We were both so beaten down, lonely, confused and searching for something. We had attended a baptist church on and off for many years, but never found any love or friendship there. Just cold stares and clicks of friends that we did not fit into, or were even invited into. One day a Jehovah's Witnesses knocked on our door. They were so friendly and so we invited them in. They were going to study the bible with us, for free! We were absolutely stunned that there were people out there that would spend time with us, teaching us and asking nothing in return, and they were so kind and loving. Well, they came each week and we devoured the material they presented, and for the first time someone actually cared about us. My mother and I looked forward to that weekly visit so much that we would prepare a huge lunch full of homemade cooked foods for them when they arrived each week. We were just to grateful that they cared, it was so foreign to us. Some of the things they were teaching us didn't seem to follow the bible, so we were a little confused, and weren't sure we were doing the right thing. We were torn about it, and didn't really have a relationship with God on our own, so we decided to call our pastor and ask him to help us with our questions and explain what was going on because maybe he could help us. We just wanted to do the right thing, one way or another. So, we called him and told him that we were studying with the witnesses and we wondered if he would help us with some questions that we had. He got so angry and told us that he didn't have time for that, this was his day off, and we were probably one of "them" now anyway and he hung up. This was the pastor of our church. The hate was so thick you could taste it. We never went back, but became baptised JW's after studying with them for a year, and we remained there for the next 7 years till we eventually left on our own. Neither of us regret our JW experience, in fact, it was a good experienced and we both learned a lot and cherished the friends we made there. I'm just telling you this because I want you to understand that the time you give away for free, and graciously, to strangers on the internet does have an impact. You are kind, gentle and compassionate. These are the markings of a true man of God and it means a lot. I might not agree with all of your conclusions or theories, but you are a wonderful person and I thank you for helping others out there like me who are searching.

Response #13:

You are very welcome, and thank you so much for your kind words, and also for taking the time to give me this background. Let me say in case you have not navigated to those files yet that Ichthys is an unaffiliated personal ministry (it's not Baptist or anything else, though it is in the evangelical tradition, broadly defined).

On the one hand I am happy if you made some good friends; on the other hand as a pastor/teacher it is my responsibility to point it out when my fellow believers might be in some spiritual danger. The JW's may be good people (there are a lot of "good people" in the world), but salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. It does not come through affiliation with any particular organization.

The main problem I have with the JW's is their refusal to accept Christ's deity. Since accepting the Gift means accepting both who Jesus is and what He has done, that is, both His perfect Person, human and divine, and His perfect work, dying spiritually on the cross to pay the penalty for all of our sins, by necessity deliberately refusing to accept any of the above means refusal of the Gift.

Of course, many people are saved without knowing all the details they trust God in Jesus and trust Him to "fill in the blanks" for them later. I certainly understand that (having myself been saved while I was a very small boy and ignorant of so many things that were later made clear). Still, we have to maintain faith to the end for salvation, and we should be growing in the truth day by day and certainly not drifting away from it. So when groups assert some falsehood, especially something having to do with one aspect of the gospel or another (and this has been going on since the first century after all), it behooves all genuine believers in Jesus Christ to adopt a policy of "zero tolerance". That doesn't mean we have to be angry or hateful or even separate from friends who have "got it wrong" in fact it may be the specific ministry Jesus is calling us to to witness to them the truth. But it does mean that in regard to spiritual danger we always have to be careful to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt.10:16), that is, taking care not to allow wolves in sheep's clothing to get the better of us, no matter how nice they may seem to be, even as we are careful to be kind and considerate in all of our own dealings with others.

Here are some links which you may find helpful on all this:

Jesus is God.

Where does the Bible teach that Jesus is God?

The Divinity of Jesus.

Salvation, the Gospel, and Unbelief.

Theological Questions.

Feel free to write me back any time.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #14:

Hello Dr. Luginbill,

Are the rules the Granville Sharp always applicable in every instance in the bible? I heard that there is always an exception to a grammatical rule in the Greek, but I can't seem to find an example when the Granville Sharp rule is used in a passage that is applicable. Thanks!

God Bless,

Response #14:

Like all "rules" of grammar when talking about an ancient language, these are really descriptive observations about how the language generally behaves. "Granville Sharp's rule" is an observation to the effect that in biblical Greek the definite article is often not repeated when two elements are linked. This happens in Classical Greek as well and in all Greek in regard to adjectives. We may compare English constructions such as "the thunder gave a big bang and roar" where we might understand "big" to modify both nouns, or "the Commander and Chief" where the definite article "the" modifies both nouns (this would be directly parallel to Granville Sharp's rule). An example in the Bible is 2nd Peter 1:1 where "the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" has the word "the" before God but not repeated before Savior yet is understood with both. Sharp's rule in its particulars is actually a bit more complicated than this, restricting the observation to offices et al. (i.e., "commander and chief" again a good parallel), so even if one were to adduce an "exception", it would have to take account of the actual refinements G.S. employed.

All this has very little of significance to do with the interpretation of the New Testament. The only contemporary issue of which I am aware are the efforts of some JW's to "make hay" out the absence of the article in the second element of some such constructions (as in the example above of 2Pet.1:1) as if saying the president was the commander, but only "a" chief since there is no second "the", or that these are somehow referring to two separate persons. This sort of thing doesn't convince anyone even on the margins except for those who have already drunk the Kool-aid.

Please do feel free write back in case I didn't get to your concerns on this issue.

In Jesus Christ who is both our God and our Savior in every way,

Bob L.

Question #15:

Hello--I hope you had a lovely Christmas and your New Year is going well, so far. I was wondering if you would take a look at what this self-styled Greek and Hebrew expert, Daniel Gregg, has written, concerning the Greek word "dikaioo--justify." Here is what he says it mostly means:

"Both Trent and the Protestants are incorrect. The word "justify" DIKAIOO in the Greek of Paul's day, Josephus, etc. meant "to do justice to", "to punish", or satisfy justice in a negative sense. The definition is barely there in BDAG 3rd, def. 1, but in Thayer it is fully expounded at the end of the entry. So the word does not mean either "declare righteous" (Reformers) or "make righteous" (Rome)....at least not in the key usages of Paul. Therefore as those who have had justice satisfied by [his] faithfulness, we have peace with the Alm ghty through our Ad na Y shu a the M ssiah, 2 by whom also we hold access, by [our] trusting faithfulness, into this loving kindness in which we stand.

As for the synergistic concept, I said this:

For by loving-kindness you are saved (through faithfulness) and this is not from you, because it is a gift of the Alm ghty; 9 not from works, that no one should boast.

Salvation from the penalty of sin is done for the faithful one; Paul's point is that the penalty is not paid by works, and that is what he means by saved here. Saved means he paid the penalty. However, Paul does not exclude faithfulness. Faithfulness is required (through faithfulness), but it simply is not applied to salvation from the penalty, which is without works. So when we say salvation is not by our works, we mean payment of the penalty for sin. We do not mean that no commitment or fidelity toward Messiah is required to continue to abide in Messiah's loving-kindness.

I have had run-ins before with this guy and his "translations". He is the one I told you about who wants to publish his own translation of the bible, along with the commentary on it. And, he thinks the main translation of "nomos" is "norm," NOT "law." Yet, he won't tell anyone where he learned his Greek and Hebrew and he almost always goes by what the BDAG 3rd edition says, though he will consult other lexicons, like Thayer's. Anyway, what do you think of his insistence of what "dikaioo" means? Our BibleWorks 4.0 DOES say that the word means "declare righteous" so what is he talking about? It only means to satisfy justice in a negative sense?

Thanks and have a blessed week.

Response #15:

Good to hear from you as always.

Omicron contract verbs are denominative in Greek (see Smyth's Greek Grammar, para. 866.3). That means that they describe the transfer of the characteristic of the adjective on which they are built to the object. Thus since phaneros means "clear", phaneroo means "make clear", and since eleutheros means free, eleutheroo means to "make free". In the same manner, therefore, dikaioo will mean to "make dikaios". To the extent that dikaios means "just", to that extent dikaioo will mean "make just" or "make righteous" (or "justify"). So the morphology of the word matches the lexical representations.

More than that, the standard meaning is also demonstrable from its contextual uses throughout not only the Bible but all of Greek. Correspondent implies that Thayer opposes this definition. In fact, Thayer's entire article demonstrates that "justify" is what dikaioo means in the NT. Thayer does have an appendix to the article wherein he very clearly states that in Classical Greek the verb sometimes has the sense of imputing the results of dikaios to the object (so that "render just punishment" is sometimes correct). In other words, Thayer never says that it might be possible to render the verb that way in the Bible, and notes that sort of use outside of the Bible as exceptional. Moreover, these cases which are not the norm are easily seen recognized from context. We have something similar in Revelation with the adjective axios ("worthy"):

(5) Then I heard the angel of the waters saying, "O You who are and [always] were, the Holy One, You are justified in rendering these [seven bowl] judgments. (6) For [the inhabitants of the earth] have poured out the blood of [Your] saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it."
Revelation 16:5-6

The second emphasized phrase in verse 6 in Greek is axioi eisi, which might be wrongly translated by a careless student, "they are worthy", and that might leave English speakers/readers missing the point that what they are "worthy of" is punishment. Context makes the distinction clear, and the correct rendering works.

In verse five above, however, note that God is said to be "justified" in doing rendering this judgment from the verb in question, dikaioo. Which brings me to what I find so very curious about correspondent's position. Is God "worthy of punishment"? God forbid. In fact, while it is not entirely clear to me from this email just exactly what it is correspondent want's dikaioo to mean where it occurs in scripture, it is very clear that translating "punish" will not work in any single instance where the verb occurs without creating the sort of havoc illustrated above.

All this is a long way of saying that the representations made by correspondent are demonstrably false. I seem to remember from earlier go-arounds that his objective is not to elucidate but to obfuscate. Anyone who has an "issue" with the standard way of translating any Greek word needs to do more than attack the traditional ways it is explained in the scholarly literature. An elementary first step would be to supply a workable alternative (rather than hiding behind impenetrably dense prose that is neither here nor there to the discussion).

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #16:

Hello--Thanks for answering so quickly.

I hate to be mean, but this guy is so full of himself and his supposed "expertise"in Greek and Hebrew, yet he got a very simple grammar point wrong, as Ray Goldsmith, who has written to you also, pointed out to him. In Luke 22, where Jesus says that He had long desired to have "this Passover" with His disciples, Greggs says incompetents translate it that way and to "get it right, people" and put the comma where it belongs, after this, thus having "Long have I desired this, to eat the Passover with you." Something like that. Goldsmith pointed out the demonstrative is in the standard predicate with the noun, Passover, and thus, modifies "Passover." I forget his exact words, but anyway, he pointed out it was in lesson nine in his Greek grammar book for beginners, so, at one lesson per week, it would be nine weeks into learning Greek to learn something so simple. Yet Gregg got it completely wrong. I asked Gregg to comment on what Goldsmith wrote and he never did and in fact, left the CARM boards soon after, not to be seen for more than 2 years--until now. I pointed out his mistake to him again, and so far, he hasn't commented on it, and has hardly posted again.

Here is a little more from this Gregg guy. He quotes this McGrath scholar as sort of backing him up, but when a poster asks him why McGrath agrees with other scholars about "justify" and what it really means, Gregg writes this (I wonder what you will say about THESE translations; He even writes his own commentary):

When authorities contradict sound linguistics and logic then I depart from them. The confusion is caused by traditional assumptions contradicting the innate sense logic that reasonable people have, and perpetuated by a lack of resolution for the cognitive dissonance caused by the contradiction between logic and tradition. When man decides to trust man's answers the Almighty does not intervene until a time of His own choosing.

21 But now apart from the norm, the justice of the Alm ghty is made visible, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 that is, the justice of the Alm ghty, through the faithfulness of Y shu a, the M ssiah [on the cross], unto all those who are trustingly faithful; for there is no distinction. 23 For all sin and all fall short of the glory of the Alm ghty, 24 having justice satisfied, as a gift, by his lovingkindness through the redemption which is in M ssiah Y shu a;

3:21 norm: , , ; BDAG def. no. 1 justice: , , ; BDAG, def. no. 1 Alm ghty: = ; plural of intensification: mighty one of the mighty ones; most mighty one the norm for justice is that the sinner will pay their own penalty; see 10:4.

3:22 faithfulness of Y shu a: ; recent scholarship has shown that the subjective genitive is far more probable than the rendering faith in, from a grammatical standpoint. From a contextual point of view there is no doubt that by the faithfulness of Y shu a Paul means the work on the cross trustingly faithful: see on 10:4.

3:24 having justice satisfied: ; being justice, being done justice (in a punitive sense); BDAG definition number 1; also Thayer and

TDNT. The word only means justified, declared righteous, made righteous in other contexts. Paul uses the word as Greek writers would, to mean punitive justice, do justice to someone. The only difference is that Paul is saying Messiah receive our punitive justice.

For M ssiah is the end of the norm for justice to everyone trustingly faithful.

10:4 end: , ; BDAG definition number 1 norm: , , ; BDAG def. no. 1 justice: , , ; BDAG, def. no. 1 trustingly faithful: ; BDAG def. no. 2; the Greek lexicons are deficient with the verb form of the pistis root due to heavy anti-nomian influences in the scholars that produced them, however, the adjective pistos(= faithful, BDAG no. 1) and the noun pistis (= faithfulness, BDAG no. 1) both show that the verb pisteuo should mean be faithful. This is confirmed by obscure definitions such as comply and commit, and also by the Hebrew verb , support, which in the Hiphil means to make support (on someone) or give support (to someone, to something), glossed as be faithfulin BDB and HALOT; the meaning ranges from believe to loyalty depending on the nature of the object or person the verb is applied to the norm for justice is that the sinner must pay their own penalty by their own eternal death; the exception is that Messiah paid the punitive penalty that was still required of the repentant. The repentant remain (abide) in the grace of the cross by being trustingly faithful to the teachings and commandments of Messiah, which are the same as his Father's teachings in the Law and Prophets.

Response #16:

When a correspondent is at odds even with all of the "sources" he adduces to support his position, well, there's really not much more that needs to be said. In scholarly attempts to support alternative meanings of words one always starts with parallels and then one must show how those parallels are appropriate to the passages one wishes to amend. Beyond all of the smoke and mirrors here, however, I can see 1) no passages at all adduced as parallels which might suggest that Paul's "justified" means something else (lexicons are, after all, merely erudite collections of parallels and the analysis thereof), or 2) any actual re-translations of a Pauline verse or two where this theoretical alternative meaning might be tested. The proof, after all, is in the pudding. Here we have no pudding to be put to the proof. If as I suspect (and as I suggested last time by showing how this might work in a potential example) the actual translation of a verse based on this theory will only result in gobbledegook, then I suppose that explains the absence of both 1) and 2).

You have the patience of Job!

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #17:

Hi--So this guys "translation" is gobbelty gook, eh? I pointed out to him that he can't just stick "norm" in every time the word "nomos" or one of its variations appears in the NT, but the context would have to be taken into consideration. I gave him two examples--can't use "norm" where Paul wrote that "by no works of the NORM will any flesh be justified." And "we are justified by faith apart from works of the NORM." (paraphrasing) Now, does either of those examples make sense??? So far, since I posted your stuff, he hasn't responded. He may have put me on "ignore", which means he wouldn't be able to see my posts and so won't see what I posted. He has only responded to me once, to tell me my theology was wrong--where I said we are saved by grace through faith and not by works of the Law, and that through faith, Jesus' perfect keeping of the Law in our place/His righteousness is then credited to us. Sad, isn't it? And this guy claims to believe in Jesus; pardon ME, Yeshua. But in reality, to many in Messianic Judaism, the Torah is almost their god, NOT Jesus.

Can you stomach one more from Gregg? How about THIS beaut:

"ASV Exodus 23:7 Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.

4 Now with respect to the working the reward is not accounted as a favor, but according to what is due. 5 But with respect to the not working (but faithfully trusting upon the one who renders justice to the ungodly) His faithfulness [on the cross] is accounted as justice, 6 just as Da vi also speaks about the blessing of the man to whom the Alm ghty is accounting justice apart from works:"

The above is from Romans 4:5. I don't think I have seen such a screwy translation in my life, except in the Jehovah's Witnesses bible, the NWT and even theirs doesn't read like THIS guy's "translation." He seems to think God doesn't "justify" the ungodly, based upon the Exodus verse, but it looks to me that God means those that refuse to repent of their sinful deeds. But He forgave David his sins of murder and adultery, since David repented, even though He still took his son's life. I mean, aren't we ALL ungodly, when we were dead in our trespasses and sins? And who is left to justify--the righteous? THEY don't need it!

I pointed out the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee in the temple and how the tax collector went to his house "justified." I don't see how this guy can get around its true meaning here, with this verse.

Thanks for YOUR patience! God bless!

Response #17:

Exodus 23:7 apart from being originally Hebrew is in the active voice, not the passive voice. The difference between "I justify" and "I am [being] justified" is one of grammatical voice, not lexical difference. The quotation you report in the other email of Romans 3:20, "by no works of the NORM will any flesh be justified", is a passive voice, both in the Greek and in this fellow's translation. The oddity there is translating nomos, the Law, and "the NORM", whatever that means; nomos, however, means "Law" in Paul (never "norm"), and almost always everywhere else in scripture (not to mention that it is also the most likely translation in the secular Greek of that day, albeit "law" as opposed to "[the] Law").

As to Romans 4:4-5, in addition to the infelicitous translation (and as I have pointed out many times in the past rendering scripture in a barely readable way often gives pseudo-scholarly translations a false patina of authority while at the same time making it difficult for the reader/listener to understand so that said person merely accepts the teaching with the assumption that the obfuscator "must know what he's talking about), we have two "flies in the ointment" which distort the verse: 1) Translating "faith (pistis / πιστις)" as "faithfulness" exactly reverses the meaning. If I "have faith" I am putting my faith in the Object who is "faithful", namely Jesus Christ. Whereas we know from the context that this is all about the example of Abraham who "believed in the Lord" and was accounted righteous through that faith. Also, the participle which precedes pistis, pisteuonti (πιστευοντι), i.e., "the one who believes", is derived from the same root, and even correspondent renders this as referring to the believer, not the Object of belief. Since pistis immediately picks up pisteuonti, it would be hard to argue that they do not go together here. 2) We find the same problem with the pronoun "his" (autou). According to standard Greek usage this word along with the participles and articles should all agree with the same hypothetical person, the one who "does not work" but "believes" and then has HIS faith "accounted as righteousness". For there to be a switch here to another subject when we already have two in the context (God and the hypothetical believer) would require Jesus to be mentioned by name . . . if, that is, it really were His "faithfulness" that is being discussed as opposed to the hypothetical person's faith in Him.

Hope that's not too convoluted!

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord,

Bob L.


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