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Thursday, October 27, 2011

To The Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson

“I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death.  Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God?  Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”
This is not your typical, “may I have your daughter’s hand in marriage?” speech.  Yet, it is an excerpt from a letter written in 1810 for that very purpose by Adoniram Judson to John Hasseltine requesting permission to marry his daughter, Nancy, and to take her with him to serve as missionaries overseas.  Mr. Hasseltine gave his consent, and the young couple shortly found their way to shores of Burma.
Whether or not Judson truly expected to face the potential difficulties detailed in his letter, his words were prophetic.  He and those with him would eventually experience all the suffering mentioned there, save the violent death. 
The story of the life of Adoniram Judson, as told in Courtney Anderson’s To The Golden Shore, is all at once inspiring, encouraging, convicting, and horrifying.  The first Baptist missionary sent abroad from the shores of America, Judson exemplified the essence of the missionary heart and task.  After denying the faith in his college years, he was prompted by the death of his best friend to consider his own mortality and the purpose of his life.  Shortly, he was converted and dedicated his life to the spread of the gospel among the “heathen nations.” 
Judson’s dedication to the task is something unparalleled in our modern times.  That dedication, reflected in his letter to John Hasseltine, would lead him to spend his entire life in Burma, a land completely untouched by the gospel prior to his ministry there.  He diligently absorbed the local Burmese dialect so that he could translate the Bible into the native tongue.  He would spend thirty years laboring on that translation only to immediately begin revising it until the time of his death.  All the while, he was also writing and distributing gospel tracts in a land that was hostile to the Christian faith.  It took six years to see the first native convert. 
That Adoniram Judson labored so long and so faithfully is inspiring in itself.  However, the account of how he suffered throughout his ministry makes his dedication all the more amazing.  There was the seemingly constant loss of friends and family to disease, the imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Burmese government, and the numerous personal life-threatening illnesses.  There were two constant themes in Judson’s life: the ever-present specter of death and the methodical translation of the Bible into Burmese.  
To the Golden Shore:The Life of Adoniram Judson is one of the best books I have ever read.  It prompted me to examine the motives behind my life’s pursuits.  It put into blessed perspective the light, momentary difficulties I have experienced thus far.  And it challenged me to consider what meaningful return the cause of Christ is receiving for the investment God has made in me.  It is rare to find such an engaging and challenging story.  Courtney Anderson’s care in the writing of this work has made it an enduring classic in Baptist history, considered by many to be one of the greatest Christian biographies every written.  I highly recommend it to you.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Are Mormons Christians?

Anyone paying even marginal attention to the Republican presidential primary race must be aware of the firestorm ignited recently by the statements of a Baptist minister in Texas.  Dr. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas made comments claiming that Mormonism is not a branch of Christianity, but rather is a cult.  He also drew a distinction between true, born again believers and Mormons, like Mitt Romney.
The furor that erupted provides the Church with an opportunity to consider an important issue: Are Mormons Christians?  Is the Mormon Church just another denomination within the body of Christ?  Or is it a false religion?
The pluralistic spirit of the age combined with the influence of political correctness has caused many in evangelicalism to either wittingly or unwittingly take a soft stance on the issue.  However, when we understand Mormon doctrine and compare it to the teaching of Scripture, it becomes clear that to ask the question “are Mormons Christians?” is similar to asking “are Muslims Christians?” or “are Scientologists Christians?”  The similarity between Mormonism and orthodox Christianity goes no further than the level of shared terminology.  When compared side-by-side, the god of Mormonism is not like the God of the Bible, the Christ of Mormonism is not like the Christ of the Bible, and the salvation of Mormonism is not like the salvation of the Bible.
Mormonism is purely polytheistic.  That is, there is not one God, but many.  In fact, the God of the earth was once like we are now.  We are of the same species as God.  “Mormon prophets have continuously taught the sublime truth that God the Eternal Father was once a mortal man who passed through the school of earth life similar to that through which we are now passing.  He became God – an exalted being – through obedience to the same eternal Gospel truths that we are given opportunity today to obey.”[1]  In other words, God was not always God.  He was a man and He became an exalted being through obedience. 
Mormonism teaches that you and I have this same potential.  If we are successful, we will become like God, ruling a planet of our own: “You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves; to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you – namely, by going from a small degree to another, from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you are able to sit in glory as doth those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.”[2]
But what does the Bible say about this?  Are there many Gods?  
Isaiah 43:10-11  "You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.  I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior.
Isaiah 44:6  Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.
Other references could be quoted, but these are sufficient to obliterate the notions that there were gods before God and that there will be gods after God.  “Besides me there is no god.”  Therefore, the polytheistic god of Mormonism is a false god.
Likewise, the Christ of Mormonism is a false Christ.  First, according to Mormon doctrine, Christ was not conceived of the Holy Spirit (as Matt 1:18 tells us), but was rather the result of actual sexual relations between God the Father and Mary.  (Mormons believe that God is a physical person.)  So Christ was not born of a virgin.  Second, the blood of the Christ of Mormonism is insufficient to atone for the sins of men.  As Brigham Young taught, “There is not a man or woman, who violates the covenants made with their God, that will not be required to pay the debt.  The blood Christ will never wipe that out, your own blood must atone for it.”[3]  Yet, 1 John 1:7 tells us that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 
It should be no surprise then that Mormon salvation is a false salvation.  The Mormon doctrine of salvation is not by faith alone, but is also a result of baptism, obedience to the Mormon Church, good works, and “keeping the commandments of God [which] will cleanse away the stain of sin.”[4]  This is a works-based salvation, a notion against which the totality of the New Testament cries out.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 
In Galatians 1:8-9, Paul wrote these words: But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.  This is a chilling indictment of all those who teach the Mormon doctrine of salvation.
It is obvious that the doctrines of Mormonism are heretical when compared with the essential doctrines of the biblical Christian faith.  So, are Mormons Christians?  Not if they hold to the propositions of Mormon doctrine.  The Mormon Church holds a different canon of Scripture, a different, polytheistic God, a different Christ, and a different gospel.  That our society would react so strongly against a pastor who claims that Mormonism is not a branch of Christianity demonstrates how pluralistic our society has become. 
Mormons are lost.  We cannot consider them our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We ought to have compassion on them, pray for them, and evangelize them. 
Posted by Greg Birdwell

[1]Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages, 104.
[2]Joseph Smith, Journal of Discourses, 6:3-4.
[3]Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 4:219.
[4]Young, Journal of Discourses, 2:4.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Greater Holocaust

Who do we normally think of as the epitome of human evil?  Who is the quintessential example of the dark potential of human depravity? 
Adolph Hitler.  If you want to cast someone as a tyrant, bigot, or inhuman masochist, compare them to Hitler.  How many times during George W. Bush’s presidency did we see protesters carrying large pictures of Bush with the perennially recognizable Hitler mustache painted on his upper lip?  Recently, Hank Williams Jr. compared President Obama to Hitler, and as a result his song, “All My Rowdy Friends,” was discontinued as the intro to Monday Night Football after serving twenty years in that role.  It’s a serious thing to throw the “Hitler epithet.”
Why is that?  There have been other more murderous figures in human history, several in the 20th century alone.  Yet, Hitler tops the list.  There may be numerous reasons for this.  Perhaps it is because his atrocities were the most widely documented.  Who hasn’t seen the horrific pictures of giants pits full of emaciated corpses and heard the nightmarish tales of the suffering perpetrated in the concentration camps?  Perhaps it is due to the fact that the holocaust represented an ethnic cleansing – millions of people died simply for being Jews.  Perhaps it was the cruelty employed in the murdering of these people.  Perhaps it was the brainwashing of the German people that empowered Hitler and his Nazis to carry out the epic slaughter.  Perhaps it was all these things combined.  Whatever the reasons, Hitler and Nazi Germany remain today the automatic darkest examples of the evil that human beings are capable of committing.
It’s amazing how easy it is to recognize evil that is happening or has happened somewhere else.  We are horrified by a Hitler from which we are over half a century removed, yet we tolerate a more diabolical evil taking place right under our noses.  There is a greater holocaust, both in terms of duration and lives lost, currently happening in the United States. 
Hitler killed a total of between 10 and 12 million people.  The United States has aborted over 50 million children since 1973. 
I recently came across one of the most powerful videos I’ve ever seen.  There is a link below to a video called “180,” released by Living Waters, a ministry founded by Ray Comfort.  In it, Comfort uses his signature street evangelism method to lead people through a discussion of the holocaust, eliciting from them the pure evil of what happened at the hands of the Nazis.  He then relates the holocaust to the modern massacre that we know as abortion.  The results are stunning.
The video is about 33 minutes long, but well worth your time.  It does contain graphic content – there are disturbing images of both the holocaust and the world of abortion, as well as some profanity, all of which is bleeped out, though.  This is probably not something you will want your children to watch with you.  You may also want to view it yourself before allowing your teens to see it.
Let me also say that even as we take a hard stand against abortion, we need to reach out in love and grace to those who have had abortions.  Abortion is a sin, as the Bible clearly demonstrates that it is wrong to murder.  But God is loving and gracious.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9).  If you or someone you know has had an abortion and still struggle with guilt, please contact the church.  We want to come alongside and offer hope and help from God’s Word.  The church phone is 513-759-0096. 
Posted by Greg Birdwell