Saturday, October 25, 2014

From Death to Life - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Luke 9:23 And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
It’s strange but true. Only when we have grasped the reality of death can we understand the meaning of life. Charles Colson in The Good Life tells the story of the great nineteenth-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881). This gifted author, who wrote Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1869), and The Brothers Karamazov (1880), experienced this paradox in an unexpected and dramatic way.
Enamored with French Utopian socialism, the young intellectual attended a meeting that the Russian czar believed was subversive. Because of that, Dostoyevsky was condemned to eight years of hard labor. After he had been in custody for a time, he learned that his sentence had been changed to execution by firing squad. He prepared to die.
On a bleak winter day, Dostoyevsky and his fellow prisoners were marched through the snow in front of the firing squad. As a military official shouted out the death sentences, an Orthodox priest led each man to a platform, giving him an opportunity to kiss the cross the priest carried. Three of the prisoners were then marched forward and tied to a stake.
Dostoyevsky looked on, realizing he would be next in line. He watched the soldiers pull the men’s caps down over their eyes. He felt revulsion in his stomach as the firing squad lifted their rifles, adjusted their aim, and stood ready to pull the triggers. Frozen in suspense, Dostoyevsky waited for what seemed like a lifetime.
Then he heard the drums start up again. But they were beating retreat! He watched, stunned, as the firing squad lowered their rifles and the soldiers removed the prisoners’ caps from their eyes. Moments from death, everything changed. Their lives would be spared.
Immediately after this incident, Dostoyevsky wrote a letter to his brother about the change the experience had brought about in him: “When I look back on my past and think how much time I wasted on nothing, how much time has been lost in futilities, errors, laziness, incapacity to live; how little I appreciated it, how many times I sinned against my heart and soul—then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift. … Now, in changing my life, I am reborn in a new form. Brother! I swear that I will not lose hope and will keep my soul and heart pure. I will be reborn for the better. That’s all my hope, all my consolation!”
We are certainly not endorsing this man’s theology or specific beliefs, but one thing is clear. Dostoyevsky’s near execution and the eight dreary years in a Siberian prison gave him a unique gift: the ability to see life from its end. He understood what really mattered in a way that many people never do. And this perspective equipped him to write great novels filled with incredible insights into the human condition and into the battle between good and evil.
Dostoyevsky’s novels helped keep religious faith (as he understood it) alive during the seventy years of Soviet repression. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the dissident whose Nobel Prize-winning books exposed the repression of the Soviet gulag, took many of his cues from Dostoyevsky. Through Solzhenitsyn and other dissidents who treasured Dostoyevsky’s work, Dostoyevsky’s suffering proved an indirect but powerful force in toppling the evil Soviet regime.
When I read Colson’s account I imagined myself in Dostoyevsky’s situation. How focused my life would be, how grateful my heart would be, and how intense my faith would be, if I were literally given my life back at the brink of death. Instead I can become so caught up in the everyday routine of life and miss the precious gift of each moment.
We are not told how the murderous insurrectionist Barabbas reacted when he was taken off death row and avoided crucifixion. When the crowd shouted for Jesus to be put to death instead, Barabbas was suddenly free, though it was he who deserved to die. Did he go on as he had lived before, returning to a life of crime and evil? Or did his “near-death experience” transform his view of the purpose of his life? Did he become a follower of Christ?
The apostle Paul actually had several “near-death experiences,” one of which he described in 2 Cor 1:8–10: “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” Paul had to identify with the death of Christ before he could connect with His resurrection. He had to “die” before he could really live.
We so easily take life for granted. Days pass, weeks slip by, seasons change, and years roll along. We float downriver as if life here will go on forever. What do we have to show for our lives? What have we accomplished? What good will we leave behind? If we knew for sure that we were going to die today – but then we didn’t – what difference would it make? Just thinking about it can make all the difference in the world in your life and mine. We are not merely living people who will one day die. We are dying people who have been given real life in Jesus Christ. Let’s make the most of it – for Him.
Rom 6:13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Cory Collins

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Beliefs and Teachings of Beth Moore

Display of Beth Moore resources at a local LifeWay store.

Ac 17:11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
It is always right, even necessary, to examine the Scriptures daily to see whether a public speaker’s teaching is biblical. In doing so we must not judge anyone’s heart or question anyone’s motives or intelligence.
Wanda Elizabeth “Beth” Moore was born on June 16, 1957, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. She is an evangelist, author, and Bible teacher. She is married with two grown children. She is the founder of Living Proof Ministries, based in Houston, Texas. Formerly a member of Houston’s First Baptist Church, she now belongs to Bayou City Fellowship (BCF) in Houston, where her son-in-law, Curtis Jones, is the lead pastor.
What is Bayou City Fellowship (BCF)? What does this group teach and practice?
BCF is a charismatic group which holds that “all men and women are born corrupted, sinful, and condemned.” From birth all people are “enslaved to sin” and are “unable to understand the things of God.” The Holy Spirit must first enable such understanding. They "believe all the gifts listed in the New Testament are still active." The gifts listed in 1 Cor 12:4-11, said to continue today, include tongues, healings, prophecy, etc. The group teaches that the Spirit baptizes all believers into the Body of Christ so that they are saved. Later they are to be baptized (by immersion) in water. A person once saved can never be lost, though “Christian freedom is not an excuse to sin.”
Readers, would you invite any member of BCF to teach a Bible class where you worship? Why or why not?
Let’s get back to Ms. Moore herself. She is a dynamic, passionate, and articulate presenter. She is very effective and persuasive. She has an extremely devoted following. Many enroll in every class she produces, faithfully watching the videos and eagerly doing the daily homework. They find her message and style engaging and captivating. They eagerly await each new Beth Moore study, on any topic or part of the Bible that it may address.
Though Beth Moore no longer belongs to a Southern Baptist church, the Southern Baptists’ publishing arm, B & H (Broadman and Holman), publishes her materials. The Southern Baptists’ commercial arm, LifeWay Christian Stores, promotes and sells them. The extent and influence of Ms. Moore’s ministry can also be seen in increased sales. The ministry reported 2011 income in excess of $5M and over $12M in assets.
To allow Beth Moore to speak for herself, please watch this sample YouTube presentation before reading further.
Readers, after watching the video, would you invite Beth Moore to teach a Bible class where you worship? Would you participate in such a class? Why or why not?
Some have a strong, even intense emotional commitment to Ms. Moore. In fact one can draw a very strong response from her supporters just for questioning her beliefs and teachings. I know this from firsthand experience! Several years ago, when her material was introduced into a local church setting, I asked some objective, Bible-based questions. As a result some sisters in Christ in that local church snubbed me and acted as if it was my problem!
With some it seems virtually impossible to have a rational, biblical evaluation of what Ms. Moore teaches. They react by asking, “How can you question a person who is so sincere? Who obviously loves God with all her heart? Who touches so many lives? Who has taught me more about the Bible than anyone I have ever known in my life?”
It is not Ms. Moore’s sincerity, passion, or love that is in question. We dare not judge such things. However, if the Bereans could evaluate Paul’s teaching in the light of Scripture (Acts 17:11), surely we can do the same with Ms. Moore’s teaching. Because her teaching is public, it is not difficult to ascertain its content and tone.
Does Beth Moore teach what the Bible teaches?
[1] Ms. Moore teaches that one receives salvation through the “sinner’s prayer” rather than through baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Her website notes, “How to Receive Jesus Christ: 1. Admit your need for forgiveness and peace. 2. Be willing to turn from your sins, believing that Jesus Christ died for you on the cross and rose from the grave. 3. Through prayer, invite Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and be your Savior.”
Readers, would you invite Beth Moore to tell the people you know how to be saved? Regardless of her sincerity, is she teaching what the Bible teaches on this vital subject?
If she is not, may we say so without being harsh, judgmental, or unfair? Certainly it is OK to talk and write publicly about a public statement like this. Surely we may say with kindness and love, “This is not what the Bible teaches.”
Many say that we should go to each person privately, as much as possible. To this end I have written a letter to Ms. Moore about this subject. Would you join me and do the same? Again, with kindness and respect for her knowledge and sincerity, you can contact her personally and ask her to reconsider what the Bible teaches about salvation. Her website says that the best way to reach her is by mail, at this address:
Beth Moore              12131 Malcomson                Houston, TX  77070
Before we go on to other teachings, let’s note this. Many sincere people, from various evangelical religious groups, have also expressed concern about some of Beth Moore’s teachings, which are noted below. You may search online and see that this is the case.
[2] Ms. Moore adds her own content to the Bible’s actual teaching. In the DVD series Believing God, she discusses Mark 9:14-24. Ms. Moore claims that when Jesus came down from the Transfiguration with the three disciples He had taken with Him, He found the other nine arguing about why He had not taken them with Him. Why had Jesus picked just Peter, James and John? Why were the others not good enough? This arguing supposedly gave them “a failure of faith.” Ms. Moore said that they had argued with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law “until they talked them out of their faith.” And this is why she says we are not to argue with “Pharisees” who want to destroy our faith in what God can do. This is simply not in the Bible, and in fact it contradicts it. The context (verse 29) gives Jesus’ actual explanation. The failure to cast out the demon was not caused by arguments about why some were not chosen or by arguments with the Pharisees about anything.
One of Ms. Moore’s followers once told me, “She’s showing us things I never saw in the Bible before!” She was right. As you consider her materials, listen carefully and be sure the Bible actually teaches what she says it teaches.
At another time Ms. Moore affirmed that Jesus was actually born on December 25. She suggested that He was quite possibly conceived on the Jewish Day of Atonement, and in that case He could in fact have been born on “Christmas Day.” Then she said, “That works for me!” She gave no Scripture. She had no biblical basis for her conclusion. The point here is not to tell people how to remember the coming and birth of the Savior. It is just to emphasize that we must be careful not to say more or less than the Bible says on any subject.
[3] Ms. Moore teaches men, in the presence of men (1 Tim 2:11-15). You saw this when you watched the sample video noted above. People may disagree as to whether she is “preaching” or “teaching,” but in either case the Scripture is clear.
Ms. Moore does state that women are to be subject to their husbands. In this same regard, she needs to make it clear that, according to Scripture, women must not teach men. She needs to insist on following this truth. This is a watershed issue in the religious world today, and we simply must speak where the Bible speaks. Ignoring biblical truth can be just as dangerous as adding to it.
[4] Ms. Moore claims that God has spoken to her individually, personally, and specifically.
You have already watched the sample presentation above, where she describes her verbal argument with God in an airport about brushing a man’s hair. You can read a description of this encounter here:
There she is quoted as saying, "Again, as clearly as I've ever heard an audible word, God seemed to write this statement across the wall of my mind."
In the Session 6 DVD of Believing God, Ms. Moore describes a conversation she had with God. He called her “Baby” and “Honey.” He established her as a religious authority, through whom He would give additional revelation beyond the Bible. She says: “You know what He told me not too long ago? I told you when I first began this whole concept, He first started teaching it to me about five years ago, and He said these words to me: ‘Baby, you have not even begun to believe Me. You haven’t even begun!’ You know what He said just a few days ago? ‘Honey, I just want you to know we’re just beginning.’ Oh, glory! That meant I had begun. Hallelujah! But He was telling me, ‘When this ends, we ain’t done with this. Honey, this is what we do for the rest of your life.’ And He said those words to me over and over again: ‘Believe Me. Believe Me. And I hope it’s starting to ring in your ears, over and over again, Believe Me.’”
Elsewhere she writes, “As we study we may see several examples of Him [Christ] posing a question that only He could answer. Christ certainly uses that teaching method with me. Sometimes He’ll cause me to dig through Scripture for a question He seemed to initiate. Other times the question may come as a personalized whisper in my heart: ‘Beth, why are you acting that way?’ Often my answer is ‘I don’t know, Lord! Can you tell me why?’ If I really search His heart, sooner or later He’ll give me insight into my reactions” (Jesus, the One and Only, by Beth Moore, B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tenn., 2002, p. 47).
Beth Moore also notes sometimes she has been mistaken about God speaking to her. She says that there are occasions when "I probably misunderstood or accidentally ascribed [the voice] to Him." Read these words in their own context.
In So Long, Insecurity, Moore writes: “I’d like to replay it to you in the form of a dialogue because when it occurred, it was as if God spoke every word concretely and audibly to me. In reality, what I’ll describe was expressed in my spirit rather than in my physical hearing. After spending years in relationship with God, seeking what He’s like and how He operates in Scripture, I, like many people, can get a sense of something He’s strongly impressing upon me without “hearing” precise words. When thoughts come to me out of the blue that I’m convinced did not originate in my own mind, if they’re consistent with God’s character and sound like something He would say in Scripture, I usually assume it’s Him. Ultimately, time proves whether or not I discerned the voice correctly. If it produces substantial fruit, I know it was God and I was on target. If nothing comes of it, I probably misunderstood or accidentally ascribed it to Him. None of us are beyond confusing our own thoughts with God’s, no matter how many times we've been around the bend with Him (Moore, “So Long,” pp. 325-326).
When God speaks to Beth Moore, what would He instruct her about salvation? Would He have her teach others the “Sinner’s Prayer?” Or would He have her say, as the apostles did, “Repent and be baptized?”
[5] Ms. Moore allegorizes Scripture. That is, she takes elements from the Bible, turns them into symbols of other ideas, and draws her own conclusions. Speaking of the demoniac of Matt 8:28-34, she says, “Before we proceed to the next point, consider a fact revealed in verse 27. The demoniac didn't live in a house. He resided in the tombs. I wonder how many people today are living “in the tombs?” I know a woman who is still so oppressed by despair that decades after the loss of a loved one, she still lives “in the tombs.”  (Jesus, the One and Only, by Beth Moore, B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tenn., 2002, p. 143-144)
Of course, the text itself does not actually highlight the difference between living in a house and living in the tombs. In fact the man was not only in the tombs but also on the mountains (Mark 5:5). The point of the event actually has to do with Jesus’ power over demons, the people's fear of His authority, and His directing the man to tell others at home what the Lord had done for him. This passage does not refer to people today who are in despair because a loved one died. Certainly the Lord promises us His comfort (2 Cor 1). This text, however, describes a specific miracle, unique in several respects, in which Jesus miraculously cast out a large number (“Legion”) of demons. This particular text does not promise that Jesus will miraculously remove one’s grief after bereavement.
The problem with allegorizing is that one can make the Bible say anything he wants. For example, “Legion” actually involved many demons. We could make that large number refer to a multitude of struggles that people have. There would be no need to limit it to grief. We could include in the list anything we choose. We could claim that, according to this passage, Jesus will miraculously, visibly, and totally cast out all the problems we have. Some even say that many conditions with which people suffer today are caused by demons that possess them. Why not?
Then, of course, Jesus sent the demons into a herd of pigs. Who are the “pigs” in our allegory? Could we make the pigs to be God’s enemies today and claim that our grief and bereavement will somehow be transferred to them? And what is the allegorical significance of the townspeople, the cliff down which the pigs descend, and the water in which they drown? We could make these things represent whatever we choose. Apparently, however, the significance of this strange event is simply that the devil's power is real and destructive. Jesus, with His supernatural might, is able with a word to overcome the devil's worst. 
[6] Ms. Moore takes an ecumenical, inter-denominational approach, going along with man-made denominational divisions, doctrines, and traditions. Her website notes, “We actively support the unity of all believers eclipsing all denominational, economic, or ethnic diversities.”
When God speaks to Beth Moore, would He give her that message? Or would He tell her to call all her hearers back to the “one Lord, one faith, one body, and one baptism” of Eph 4?
Readers, would you ask a person (even the most sincere and passionate) with these beliefs to teach anyone – including yourself – about matters pertaining to eternal life and death?
Here’s a much safer course, in fact the only safe course. Keep reading that Bible, believe what it says, and stick with it. Evaluate everything by it, and honor the Lord by obeying it.
Cory Collins