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What religion says about Jesus

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I have found that a good way to determine the integrity and truth of religious, sectarian, or cultic teachings is to first determine what they say about Jesus.

The teachers of many religious systems claim that they worship the same God as the God of the Bible, and that their system of belief is just another way of approaching Him. Now, according to the Bible, Jesus is ‘the image of the invisible God…the exact representation of His being… for in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form’ (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 2:9). The Lord Jesus is therefore the primary yardstick by which we should measure the validity of all spiritual truth claims. What a belief system teaches concerning His deity, uniqueness, and Lordship is an excellent indication of whether or not their god is our God, and their way of salvation the biblical way of salvation. So, let us have a quick look at what five major religious systems have to say about Jesus.

Islam

In terms of Islamic teaching, Jesus is only a messenger of Allah (and a prophet). Muslims deny that Jesus is both God and man and they also deny that he was crucified. However, they affirm that He was born of a virgin and that He was sinless. Islam has a high view of Jesus, but denies His divinity.

Hinduism

Although there are numerous sects within Hinduism, most of them hold to certain core teachings. For instance, Brahman is the name they apply to what they believe is the divine essence of all that exists. Brahman is impersonal, eternal, and beyond all human comprehension. There are many hundreds of gods and goddesses within Hinduism generally believed to be manifestations of the divine essence (Brahman). An Avatar is the name given to an appearance on earth of one of these deities and some strains of Hinduism claim that Jesus was an Avatar. However, most hold that he was simply an enlightened teacher (a master or guru).

Buddhism

Perhaps the best way to understand Buddhism is as a philosophy of how to live a happy life. Although it does include a concept of reincarnation, each new appearance of life on earth does not represent a specific spiritual entity or being. Because Buddhism predates Christianity by some six hundred years, its basic teachings take no account of Jesus. If they have any view of Jesus at all it would be as an enlightened teacher.

Mormonism

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints claims to be ‘the church of Jesus Christ’ but the big question is, ‘is this Jesus the same of the biblical Jesus of Nazareth or is he the Jesus of the latter day saints?’ Their Jesus was birthed in a pre-earthly existence (on another ‘planet’) by a flesh and bone divine man and his wife. He was the first of many sons and Satan was his younger brother. This alone evidences that the Jesus of Mormonism is not the Jesus revealed in the Bible.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

According to Jehovah’s Witness’ theology, God is a single person, not a Trinity. He does not know all things and he is not everywhere. He first created Michael the Archangel through whom He created all “other things,” including the universe. When the time came for a messiah to redeem humanity Michael the Archangel became a human in the form of Jesus. Jesus was created and was therefore not ‘god’ and he is not part of any supposed trinity. The Jehovah’s Witness doctrine of salvation sets out three requirements for salvation – a proper knowledge of god and Jesus, obedience to god’s law, and membership of and loyalty to the one true church (theirs). This neither the Jesus of the Bible nor the way of salvation it reveals.

It is reasonably clear from all of this that the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness Jesus is not the Jesus revealed in and through the Bible. Nor is the Jesus acknowledged by Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus of these religions cannot save anyone in and of himself and cannot be worshipped as God.

Here are links to the source documents of the five religions I have listed, for those of you interested in verifying this information or studying further:
Islam: The Quran
Hinduism: The Vedas
Buddhism: The Dhammapada and others
Mormonism: The Book of Mormon
Jehovah’s Witnesses: New World translation of Holy Scriptures
The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) has a lot of information on these and other religious systems.

PS: Listen to my forthcoming TruthTalk and the Q&A that follows it if you want to know what I think of Roman Catholicism’s take on Jesus and His saving work.
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The liberal ‘gevaar’

In many evangelical circles, and certainly amongst most fundamentalists, the world ‘liberal’ carries with it a definite emotional and theological charge.

Liberals are seen as threatening the Faith and undermining true Christian theology. Liberals have a nefarious agenda; they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, and so on. Liberal theologians, on the other hand, are concerned at what they observe as a lack of love and compassion for the human condition among fundamentalists. They also take exception to what they perceive as the naïve and uncritical spiritualisation of evangelicals. Some, like bishop Spong for instance, even contend that unless they save Christianity from unscientific supernaturalism it will become first irrelevant and then extinct.

So what is theological liberalism?  I would describe liberals as people who hold the following theological beliefs:  Concerning the Bible, they generally believe that the scriptures are no more inspired than other important literary works. As a result, they subject the Bible to rigorous ‘higher’ criticism and discount much of its historic reliability and factual accuracy. Concerning salvation, they understand regeneration as a reprogramming of the individual mind and the transformation of the structures of society. Liberal theology is both humanistic and anti-supernatural. On the positive side, this results in a focus on compassion for people and consideration for the human habitat. On the negative side, it strips Christianity and the Bible of everything that cannot be logically explained. Angels have never been scientifically evaluated therefore they cannot exist. A miracle is merely the mythological name given to a natural process we do not yet fully understand. Rebirth is actually just a way of describing the process of intellectual and moral transformation. The virgin birth is superfluous… and so on. I need to note though that there is a continuum from old fashioned liberalism on the one end, through neo-liberalism, evangelical orthodoxy, to fundamentalism on the other end. Some fundamentalists regard the average evangelical as somewhat liberal, and many liberals see little difference between evangelicals and fundamentalists.

As an evangelical, I have very real problems with most that goes under the heading of theological liberalism. I accept that the Bible has a human aspect to it, but I do not accept that it is anything other than divinely inspired and authoritative. If, as many liberals contend, most of the New Testament is simply a record of the philosophy of Paul of Tarsus, then it provides only limited help in the 21st century and no certainty for an eternal future. If the Gospels record the embellished mythology of overzealous first century Christ-followers, then perhaps Jesus did not do what they say He did and His teaching is no more definitive than that of any other wise man of His day. If man is essentially good, then sin is just a religious word for social dysfunction. If right and wrong, morality and immorality are genetically or culturally determined, then homosexuality is just a matter of personal preference or predisposition, and abortion on demand a societal convenience.

If science stands above scripture as the yardstick of truth, then tomorrow’s truth will not be the same as today’s truth and both will be uncertain.
If God is an archaic name for cosmic group consciousness, then the possibility of a personal relationship with him, her, or it is an absurd idea. If Jesus was just a radical Jewish teacher and activist then I am without a saviour and my only hope for the future is my own effort, the success of my particular race or society, and a lot of luck. If this is what the Christian Faith truly is then it isn’t worth saving.

I see no point to a liberal Faith of the kind I have described. However, a note of sober caution is in order. Liberalism is not the only aberration within the greater body of the Church. In my opinion, extreme fundamentalism, on the other side of the continuum, with its harsh separatism and exclusive definitions of biblical inerrancy, creationism and so on, is an ill-conceived over-reaction to liberalism. In its own way it does just as much damage to the credibility and vitality of the Christian Faith.  Naive and slavish literalism denigrates the rational aspect of biblical faith; fixation on non-fundamental doctrines fragments the church; separatist pride and lovelessness opens the chasm between church and world even wider than it already is.

Another caution is that we should recognise the liberalism in our own views and practices. When we focus on societal change as the Faith priority, then we are comfortably in line with the liberal agenda. When we practice our Faith as an essentially private matter, largely unconfined by the demands and restraints of church life and doctrine, then we are being distinctly liberal. When we respond accommodatingly to unbiblical societal norms with the mantra, ‘different strokes for different folks’, then we are surely liberals at heart. So perhaps, rather than being as concerned as we often appear to be with only  the liberalism we identify in the institutions of the church, we ought also to examine the insidious incursion of it into our own lives and thinking.

I can’t speak for you, but I actually don’t want religion of any type, liberal or other; I want a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible and as illuminated by the Holy Spirit … so help me Father God.

The Great Creation Debate

Over the last several years there has been quite a lot of Christian media coverage given to the evolution versus divine creation debate. The subject is not a new one, but of late the Young Earth Creationist camp has been making its views known fairly clearly and dogmatically and this has sparked responses from Christians who hold other views on creation.

I am not a trained scientist and so I am not competent to comment significantly on the scientific aspects of the debate. I also do not claim to be a theological ‘expert’ on the subject. Despite both of these limitations I do feel able to make some cautionary comments on the subject. Job 38:4 records God’s challenge when He asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” I believe this applies equally to both scientists and theologians. Human beings were not present when God created the heavens and the earth. Scientists were not present at the creation to observe and analyse. They develop their hypotheses from the geological record and logical assumptions. Theologians were not there either and we develop our doctrines from a logical understanding of the scriptures. So an essential requirement in the evolution/creation debate, on both sides, is humility.

A second preliminary consideration concerns who the parties are in the debate. On the one hand Christians are engaged with atheist or agnostic sceptics like Richard Dawkins, but it seems to me that the more heated debate is occurring between Christians. Evangelicals are taking issue with Liberals, but bible-believing Christians are also fighting with other bible-believing evangelicals. I say ‘fighting’ because some of the debate is beyond robust.

creation picThe main ‘camps’ in the Christian debate over evolution and creation are the Young Earth Creationism camp, The Progressive Creationism camp, the Intelligent Design camp, and the Theistic Evolution camp. Bruce Waltke has written a paper on ‘Barriers to accepting the possibility of creation by means of an evolutionary process’ which you can read here and as an appendix he attaches the findings of four surveys administered to Pentecostal seminary faculties between 2004 and 2009. The last of these surveys revealed that only 23% of the respondents were Young Earth Creationists and 19% were evolutionary creationists. So we need to note that neither of these positions enjoys majority support even among Pentecostals.

I recently read comments by a scientist who described himself as a Christian Theistic Evolutionist claiming that a prominent Young Earth Creationist was implying that those Christians who do not agree with his views do not therefore believe in a real Adam or an actual fall. He then points out that as a Theistic Evolutionist he does believe in a real Adam and Eve, a Garden of Eden, a real Fall, and in the authority of the Bible. So we all need to be careful how we classify and characterise other sincere Christians.

I believe that, instead of fighting each other over the ‘how’ of creation, Christian scholars with a particular interest in this area of study should engage each other in a non-confrontational way on some of the underlying issues in the debate. For instance, we need to discuss what the various views say or imply concerning the character of God, the trustworthiness of the scriptures, and key doctrines such as sin and salvation. As an example, the idea that God created the earth some 6,000 years ago with the appearance of great age says something about God’s integrity and transparency. Disbelief in an actual Adam and original sin seriously affects the evangelical understanding of salvation in and through the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), the Lord Jesus Christ, and so on. These, and other serious doctrinal and faith issues, should be resolved through considerate and careful debate. I for one would certainly appreciate more of this kind of exchange and less polemic dogmatism in Christian magazines and journals.

My appeal to both scholars and editors is to air the underlying faith issues in the debate rather than the endless ideas on how God might have created, or when He created.

As a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ I am far more interested in, and impacted by, what the creation issue has to say about God’s character, the trustworthiness of the Bible, and the key doctrines of the evangelical faith.
So my appeal is that we make the subject of creation a great debate rather than a great ‘barney’.
Feature Image Jesus deficit Disorder

Jesus Deficit Disorder: The Evidence

Post on Poll Results pic

Ever since I have known him Len Sweet has boldly declared that the church is suffering from a ‘Jesus deficit disorder’

I met up with him again a few weeks ago and asked him if this was still the case. His response was, “It’s even worse now than it was two decades ago”. Is his view correct? Well, those of you who regularly read my posts know that I agree with Len 100%,  that the church appears to have lost its focus on The Lord Jesus. But is there hard evidence to back up these claims? Yes… and here is one example.

Ligonier Ministries have recently released their latest survey, ‘The state of theology’ in the United States of America. Ligonier is part of the teaching ministry of Dr R.C.Sproul, a well-known Calvinist theologian. Some of the statements posed to the 3,000 Christians polled are phrased from a Calvinist perspective, but most are not and therefore give a good idea of general Christian thinking rather than just ‘reformed’ thinking.

Here are some of the statements that relate to the Lord Jesus Christ, along with the responses:
  • Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God… 67% agreed or were not sure.
    So, two-thirds of evangelical Christians in the USA believe that Jesus was and is a created being like some sort of super angel! The great historic creeds state the exact opposite. For instance, the Nicene Creed states that ‘we believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.’ Of course, the Creeds are merely statements of biblical truth written in order to combat error, truths such as Hebrews 1:2-4; ‘in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs’. There are several other scriptures I could quote but the point is made.
post on USA pollSo, here’s the thing, the majority (67%) of American Christians believe that Jesus is less than God despite the biblical evidence to the contrary. The response to the next statement confirms this terrible heresy.
  • Jesus is truly God and has a divine nature, and Jesus is truly man and has a human nature… 37% disagreed or were unsure! Over a third of those polled either believe that Jesus does not have a divine nature, or that He doesn’t have a human nature. Yet in Colossians 1:19 Paul boldly asserts that ‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him’. The very salvation that Jesus came to earth to procure for us depends on both His divinity and His humanity. So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see the responses to the next statement.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin… 38% disagreed. Yet John the Apostle wrote that Jesus ‘is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). And Paul wrote, ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood (Romans 3:23-25).
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Saviour receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation… 44% disagreed! O my, O my… I don’t need to comment further.

So has the American evangelical church lost its focus on Jesus? Is it suffering from a Jesus Deficit Disorder?

The evidence confirms this deadly malaise in the Body of Christ.
And don’t be too quick to think that this is just an American phenomenon because the anecdotal evidence from around the world points to the same conclusion.

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Suicidal message

The Sin of Suicide

The sin of suicide

Over one million people worldwide commit suicide every year, and for every one of those, there are another 25 people who attempted suicide but failed.

But surely, you say, this problem does not exist in the Christian community to anything like the same extent. Well, according to an article in Christianity Today ‘suicide occurs among Christians at essentially the same rate as non-Christians’.

As a retired Pastor, I just hate to acknowledge that suicide is a problem for Christians… but it is.
Just over a month ago I spent two days ministering to a beautiful young Christian woman who had attempted to take her life three times in as many weeks. This last Sunday a Christian man gave testimony in the church service of how Jesus had recently changed his life, and then mentioned that just a couple of years ago he had tried to end it all. The reality is all around us and we dare not ignore it!

Some folk who believe in ‘the perseverance of the elect’ don’t believe that a Christian is not capable of committing suicide. So, if someone in their circle takes his own life, then he is deemed to have been ‘unsaved’ and his family and friends have to bear the pain of this judgement along with the agony of loss and guilt. I think that this sort of denial is singularly unhelpful, and actually very cruel.

The Roman Catholic church used to deny burial to those who took their own lives: They still hold that suicide is a mortal sin but have softened in how they deal with this tragedy. Some‘evangelicals’ are, I am sad to say, even more hard-line than 19th century Roman Catholics and label suicide as ‘a quick ticket to Hell’.

Is suicide offensive to God? Yes, I believe it is; it is a violation of His command not to murder (Exodus 20:13), and suicide is self-murder, and it is also a rejection of His gift of life. The violation of any of the Ten Commandments is surely offensive to God so why then is self-murder regarded as an irredeemable sin condemning the offender to Hell but, say, giving false testimony is not? The answer given by the ‘fast ticket to Hell’ brigade is that a person who commits suicide has no opportunity to repent and thus cannot be forgiven. But what then do Pauls’ words mean when he says; ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38-39)?

When I counsel a woman wanting to divorce her husband, I tell her that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) but that it is not the unforgivable sin and it will not consign her to Hell. Similarly, I would beseech someone contemplating suicide to NOT DO IT, and would certainly point out that it is offensive to God and devastating to loved ones… but I would NOT tell them that they will go to Hell if they act out their morbid wishes.

It is commonly said that suicide is the most selfish of sins because it leaves behind so much hurt and devastation in the lives of others, so why do people take their own lives? Here are some of the reasons I have encountered:

  • God is loveSome Christians are so beset by demonic powers, and so unaware of the authority they have in Christ Jesus, that they succumb to the voices in their heads and act to end their lives.
  • Others are brought so low by addictions and failures that they just cannot see a way to rise above the chaos they have created for themselves and others.
  • Yet others have come to the end of their resources and cannot face another day of living with crushing pain, poverty, or guilt.They are not will not be able to see even a glimmer of the hope we have in Jesus Christ and find thus their lives unbearable.
  • Some people even take their own lives because they truly believe at the time that it is the best solution to the problems confronting those they love most.
  • In many cases, it is a combination of several of these factors, and in most instances, alcohol, drugs or deep chemical depression play a major role.
A person contemplating suicide needs our love, compassion, and practical help, not our condemnation and judgement.Those who were close to a person who has committed suicide need our support, not our theological opinions.
We need never compromise our belief or sugar-coat what we understand the Bible to teach BUT we surely need to represent Jesus in such circumstances and talk and act as we know He would.

Do you know why I regard the suicide of a believer as such a tragedy? It is because a Christian who ends their own life is cutting short the opportunity that only this life on earth can offer; the opportunity of coming to know Jesus, becoming like Him, and helping others to do likewise. It is also tragic because it leaves behind a legacy of guilt, confusion, and excruciating emotional pain, and it breaks God’s heart.

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar. I have started a site called Classical Guitar SA to serve classical guitar enthusiasts in South Africa.