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In looking at preachers such as Norman Vincent Peale, Reverend Ike with their formulae for success and prosperity, one cannot forget Joel Osteen.

Americans live in an era where a vast majority of them have read at least one self-help book. For a while, we had two in our house, given to us by agnostic friends in the early 1970s who termed them ground-breaking and revolutionary: Psycho-Cybernetics and I’m OK, You’re OK. Some readers will call the former satanic, because it taught visualisation. However, although my parents were unimpressed by these books, insecure people or those who could be doing more with their potential can sometimes benefit by changing their way of thinking. It doesn’t necessarily need to come through ‘meditation’, just a self-check during the day. Ideally, some would say, this would come through faith, but the Bible is not a personal formula for success.

Speaking with a secular hat on for a second, I believe we are what we eat, read, watch and think. A constant diet of junk food is bad for the health. Reading pornography or nihilistic novels is sinful at worst, unhealthy at best. Watching most television may inhibit critical thought. A convicted criminal who thinks he will never amount to anything even if he wishes to turn over a new leaf has to learn to think in a new way. Instead of his imagining himself committing armed robbery, he has to train himself to imagine enjoying working for a living. An impatient person needs to think of himself as slowing down a potentially destructive reaction the next time someone or something irritates him. And so on. All that said, let me reiterate, self-help is a secular methodology with pragmatic instructions which may or may not work, not unlike a cookbook or a DIY manual. It has nothing to do with church and isn’t intended to. Seeing what happens in the workplace these days, a fair number of managers and employees would benefit from reading I’m OK, You’re OK, based on transactional analysis. Over the past ten years I have seen too many dysfunctional family relationships reproduce in an office setting which produces warped results for the company.

On to Joel Osteen now by way of his father John.  Joel’s detractors accuse  him of having grown up as a rich boy with no regard for hard times. I don’t know about that, however, John appeared to have grown up in humble circumstances during the Great Depression. It is unusual for reminiscences from parents and grandparents not to have some effect on younger generations. John’s obituary in Lubbock [Texas] Online reads in part:

Born Aug. 21, 1921, Osteen dropped out of high school in his hometown of Fort Worth. In his biography, he said he began seriously thinking about God after leaving a nightclub in 1939. Six weeks later, he was preaching in Paris, Texas.

That high school dropout — after his visit to a nightclub — went on to earn three degrees in theology. We may disagree on the confessionalism of the seminaries where he earned those degrees, however, he adhered to an Evangelistic background, became ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention (Arminian) and later embraced a more Charismatic Christianity. In 1959 (emphases mine):

John founded Lakewood Church in an abandoned feedstore in Houston on Mother’s Day …  It was a year after he dedicated his life to the service of God.  He had been married for four years to his second wife, Dodie, who joined him in his ministry.  His church turned no one away. It didn’t matter what race or belief you had: you were welcome.  This was unusual in the segregated, highly religious South.

Unfortunately, the Faith Builders article I cited is no longer there.

John said that his baptism in the Holy Ghost in 1958 changed his ministry:

He traveled extensively throughout the world, taking the message of God’s love, healing and power to people of all nations.

John Osteen founded Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, widely known as “The Oasis of Love in a Troubled World”, where his son Joel Osteen continues to minister to thousands weekly. He hosted the weekly “John Osteen” television program for 16 years, reaching millions in the U.S. and in many other countries with the Gospel. His numerous books, cassettes, and videotapes are widely distributed throughout the Body of Christ.

However, I found this quote of John’s interesting and wonder how the sentiment behind it might have affected Joel growing up:

Great it is to dream the dream, when you stand in youth by the starry stream. But a greater thing is to fight life through, and say at the end, the dream is true.

Joel published Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential in 2004. Note the use of ‘best’, a favourite word among prosperity and positive-thinking preachers. The sermon of Peale’s I featured is called ‘Be Your Best’. Reverend Ike’s is called ‘You Deserve the Best!’

This clip is of Joel exhorting his congregation to ‘Expect Good Things’:

I imagine that many broken people attend Osteen’s Lakewood Church for right and wrong reasons. Yes, they are going to feel better about themselves after negative experiences at work, in marriage and, no doubt, in toxic churches.  And, yes, what Osteen preaches is a type of moralistic therapeutic deism, popular in a self-help dependent society.  (See my Christianity / Apologetics page for more under the heading ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’.) Some of these people a) will never have entered a church or b) have been away too long.

There are serious problems with Joel Osteen’s ‘church’ and his preaching:

Osteen has no theological degree and an odd outlook on preaching. He dropped out of Oral Roberts University after two years. A few years ago, 60 Minutes (CBS) interviewed Osteen, already ‘The Most Influential Christian in America’ (2006). Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California said of Osteen after the interview:

… go back and watch Byron Pitts’ questions. Pitts was very fair with Osteen, even generous. He gave Osteen opportunities to say, “I’m a minister. My job is to call sinners to Christ.” What did Osteen say? “I’m not a minister. I’m a life coach. My job is teach people how to have their best life now.”

Jesus had little patience for the “best life now” approach. Broad is the way of destruction. It is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. So much [for] Osteen’s self-described prosperity gospel.

In 2007, Osteen said in the same 60 Minutes interview:

I can get up here and try to impress you with Greek words and doctrine and there are people that need that, they want to study deeper,’ he recently said on the CBS program. ‘But I know what I’m called to do is sayI want to help you learn how to forgive today.”I want to help you to have the right thoughts today.” Just simple things.

In which case, he needs to step away from the pulpit now!

– Osteen has a false church — not unlike Peale’s and Ike’s. Of Osteen, Dr Clark says:

As to judging someone’s profession, as a Reformed confessionalist … I confess that there [are] three marks of a true church (congregation): the pure preaching of the gospel (as defined by the Reformed confessions), the pure administration of the sacraments, and the administration of church discipline. Osteen’s congregation lacks these marks. Ergo it is, as the Belgic says, a false church. Belgic also gives us marks of a true Christian. You can see all this here.

He adopts a Gnostic and semi-Pelagian outlook, devoid of justification by grace through faith. Dr Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary California has examined Osteen’s writing and preaching, coming up with these observations:

“You can be better,” Osteen invites. “The question is: ‘How? What must I do to become a better me?’ In my first book, Your Best Life Now, I presented seven steps to living at your full potential.” But with Becoming a Better You, he wants to go a little deeper. “I’m hoping to help you look inside yourself and discover the priceless seeds of greatness that God has placed within you. In this book, I will reveal to you seven keys that you can use to unlock those seeds of greatness, allowing them to burst forth in an abundantly blessed life.”

And:

God has breathed His life into you. He planned seeds of greatness in you. You have everything you need to fulfill your God-given destiny….It’s all in you. You are full of potential. But you have to do your part and start tapping into it…You have the seed of Almighty God on the inside of you…We have to believe that we have what it takes.

Horton remarks:

Just as Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, and other “faith teachers” speak of believers as “little gods” who share God’s nature, Osteen has an entire chapter devoted to “The Power of Your Bloodline.” “You have the DNA of Almighty God.”4 It’s “what’s in you” that is divine seed, he says.5 It is not that God has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us and adopted us as his children. We are not saved by an external and alien righteousness, but by an internal and essential righteousness that belongs to us simply by virtue of our being created in his image. Therefore, throughout the book Osteen can address all of his readers as semi-divine without any reference to faith in Christ.

There is more at the link. Horton cautions us about human achievement and our status before God:

I’m all for positive thinking-as long as we don’t call it the gospel. I come from a long line of Wild West pioneers and can identify with Osteen’s commendation of his parents as a major source of an optimistic outlook. The problem is when we blindly ignore the reality of our condition before God. Whatever good things there may be about me, none of them commend me before God’s righteous judgment.

The Word Faith movement, of which Osteen’s Lakewood Church is a part, presents a false notion of God and human existence. Because there is such an absence of Scripture, outside of what some call ‘the fortune cookie Bible’, Osteen’s preaching and his family’s testimony can give false hope to his followers, especially if they are ill. Chris Lehmann of Salon warned:

That confident assertion of — and indeed, identification with — the divine will is one of the calling cards of the Osteen faith. Amid all the spirited self-affirmations and folksy homilies that stud an Osteen sermon, it’s easy to miss the oddly deterministic invocations of divine prerogative summoned up by the preacher, who belongs to the “Word Faith” tradition of Pentecostal belief  …

The Word Faith image of the wonder-working, healing God is discomfiting to ponder, and not just because he might tempt desperately sick believers to go rogue beyond the dictates of medical science. The constant recitation of God’s transcendent goodness and the deference paid to his ironclad ability to lift believers magically out of suffering and woe both subtly downgrade the divine presence into a glorified lifestyle concierge. This God has no real way of accounting for the age-old paradoxes of theology, such as the tolerance of personal and historic evil, or the deeper ironies and unintended consequences of the believing life.

Osteen’s message is unbiblical, even though it sounds loving. The Revd Dr Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC, wrote in 2012:

The biggest problem with Osteen’s message about God is that it is really a message about me. God is a potential, a force, a co-pilot, waiting to be tapped and deployed. I may have a net below me, but I am the one that has to take the first steps on the wire:

Taking steps of faith is imperative to fulfilling your destiny. When I make a move, God will make a move. When I stretch my faith, God will release more of his favor. When I think bigger, God will act bigger.

Osteen’s saying that God only moves if we make a move is hyper-Arminianism. In Osteen’s worldview, ultimately, that must mean that the believer lacks sufficient faith if a) he is dying of cancer or b) cannot keep up with his mortgage payments because of unemployment. We can only hope that his congregation don’t accuse each other of warrantless ‘backsliding’ over circumstances they cannot help.

Dr Lee has more:

Osteen’s message is not biblical. His promise that his audience will be taught the Bible—from a preacher who has admitted that teaching the Bible isn’t his strength—is fulfilled with a smattering of verses. These snippets are at best torn out of their context, at worst fabricated.

There’s this stretch: “God is saying to you what He said to Lot, ‘Hurry up and get there, so I can show you my favor in a greater way.’” In Genesis 19:22, the Angel does tell Lot “Get there quickly, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” God waiting on Lot to step out in faith so he can bless him? Not exactly. It is God telling Lot to flee to Zoar, a city of safety, so he can rain down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.

Osteen bolsters his bootstrap religion by quoting Jesus: “Roll away the stone, and I’ll raise Lazarus.” This, Osteen says, is a “principle,” “God expects us to do what we can, and He will do what we can’t. If you will do the natural, God will do the supernatural.”

One problem. Jesus does command them to roll away the stone, but no such quid pro quo is found in holy writ. This foundational principle is one of Osteen’s own making.

Taken as Christianity, Osteen’s false teachings — heresy, let’s be honest — can damage souls.

I won’t condemn anyone hurting who has sampled some of his sermons in an attempt to feel better on a psychological level. However, as far as Christian teaching is concerned, they would do well to frequent websites and churches which preach the Word of God and the true Gospel message.

Prosperity gospel preachers will be called to account one day. Pray that they discover the true Gospel.

Pray especially for their followers that their souls will be saved through that same eternal Truth through Word and Sacrament in a proper church.

Tomorrow: A checklist by which you can evaluate your church

Yesterday’s post looked at the late Norman Vincent Peale‘s man-centred message which still appeals to men and women today.

Although it was not perhaps technically a prosperity gospel, it certainly was a forerunner, as Peale taught through sermons and books that we could achieve anything we put our minds to. If that doesn’t include wealth and prosperity, what does?

Another preacher who came along a few decades later was the Reverend Ike.  It would be interesting to know how much he might have been influenced by Peale’s methodology, which included positive thinking combined with science, especially psychology.

Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II‘s father was a Baptist minister in South Carolina. He was a Dutch Indonesian who married an American. Frederick II — Reverend Ike — was brought up in the Church and, during his teenage years, became assistant pastor of Bible Way Church in Ridgeland, South Carolina. Ike served in the US Air Force as a Chaplain Service Specialist. He was a non-commissioned officer who assisted Air Force chaplains in their ministry.

Ike moved towards the prosperity gospel and founded three churches over time: the United Church of Jesus Christ for All People in Beaufort, South Carolina, the United Christian Evangelistic Association in Boston, Massachusetts (his main corporate entity), and the Christ Community United Church in New York City.

Although Reverend Ike was known for his radio programme, he also had a television show, which I caught briefly at the end of the 1960s and during the 1970s. In the first show I saw of his, he preached about cars. If a person really wanted a car and truly believed he could have one, it would be his. The sentence of his which stuck in my mind was:

Don’t wait ’til you die to get your pie in the sky!

An article about him which appeared on the NPR (National Public Radio) site recalls another saying of his:

You know, I come to you today lookin’ good, feelin’ good and smellin’ good.

In one of his most famous sermons — ‘You Deserve the Best’ (compare with Peale’s ‘Be Your Best’) — he discusses the notion that if a person believed he could have $1m, it would fall into his lap:

It’s interesting to read the comments beneath the video. The pitch by giftofmoney under the introduction is Pealesque (emphases mine):

Learn how to use your God-given mind power for success and prosperity …

And this, also channelling Peale:

You have to keep listening to Rev. Ike’s CDs over and over. Each time you will hear something new that applies to you, and the message will reach deeper into your subconscious mind to change your thinking! And as your thoughts change to positive, your emotions will also change to positive!

Then this comment from a Reverend Ike fan, favorsonme, which brings Gnosticism into the mix:

Rev. Ike didn’t refer to Biblical teachings, rather ancient teachings of mysticism and metaphysics which existed long before Christianity and the construction of the Christian Bible. He’s telling you all the truth that those who made the Bible wanted to keep hidden!

Another adherent, roseroyceGHOST, cites favourite Bible verses and also mentions Gnosticism, although not in so many words:

Proverbs 30:32 teaches our thoughts & mouth our powerful. Thats what got me where I am…study Proverbs 6:2…Mark11:23…Proverbs18:21…2Cor10:3-5…2Cor4:18…Eccles5:2…Eph4:29…Psalms39:1­…Psalms141:3…Matthew12:34-37…Rom10:10.­…Now that was my book of “the Secret”[;] the authors wrote it thousands of years ago. Amen.

Let’s examine the verses:

Proverbs 30:32: If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, or if you have been devising evil, put your hand on your mouth.

Proverbs 6:2: if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth,

Mark 11:23: Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.

Proverbs 18:21: Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5: 3For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

2 Corinthians 4:18: as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Ecclesiastes 5:2: Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.

Psalms 39:1: I said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence.”

Psalms 141:3: Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!

Matthew 12:34-37: 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Romans 10:10: For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

The Old Testament verses above concern careful speech. Paul’s verses talk about seeking eternal life and confessing Jesus as Lord. In Matthew’s, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and warns we shall be called to account for our speech revealing any darkness in our hearts. It’s interesting to see how a preacher could twist these verses or encourage a follower to put them into a materialistic context.

The Ike fan who cited them, roseroyceGHOST, went on to describe his CDs as

AWESOME! … THEY WORK!!!

Christian reader SuperDonster cautioned:

I’m not going to argue w/you,but I will advise you that this man is teaching a “New Age” concept called-The Law of Attraction.It’s repackaged eastern mysticism.I know because Christ saved me from it. Listen @1:051:10 Ike mocked Jesus’ teaching in Luke18:11-14. @2:00 on listen closely to what he teaches.Then type in “The Secret” and watch those videos about that book.It’s the same lies from Satan.He even uses the same “buzz words.” Joel Osteen,Joyce Meyers,TD Jakes teach this witch craft too

I’ll revisit Joel Osteen tomorrow, by the way.

Whilst The Secret looms large in the YouTube discussion of Reverend Ike’s sermon, this get-rich-quick, positive thinking and prosperity gospel has been around forever. Some trace it back to the Enlightenment, but Gnostics have been around since the dawn of time. The Secret‘s creator Rhonda Byrne got the idea for her 2006 film from a book published in 1910, The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D Wattles.

Reverend Ike was born in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression. No doubt he’d read some of these growing up, even during the Second World War. Books involving a ‘scientific’ formula ‘guaranteed’ to bring riches via positive thinking are always popular. This brings us back to Norman Vincent Peale. On the secular side, the famous motivational author Napoleon Hill was writing when the Reverend Ike was born. His most famous book is Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937. Like Ike, Hill was also from a small town in the southern United States. By the time Ike was born, Hill was already serving as a special adviser to President Franklin D Roosevelt. Hill took his own inspiration for success from the life of Andrew Carnegie, a self-made man.

Another of Hill’s books was called The Law of Success. I would posit that Hill, Peale and many others offering ‘laws’ or ‘science’ promising success no doubt gave rise to the countless self-help books which have been flooding bookshops since the 1970s. What used to be a trickle is now a flood, and not just in the United States. Even France has been inundated by a plethora of these volumes over the past 15 years.

But I digress.

The Reverend Ike Ministries has — and sells — a programme called Thinkonomics which operates on this Gnostic-scientific-visualisation formula:

Rev Ike’s Life-Changing
Audio Products on CD!

Spiritual growth and development involve continual study and practice. Rev. Ike’s dynamic AUDIO LESSONS will show you how to use your GOD-GIVEN MIND POWER to overcome life’s challenges and to have all the good you desire!

Reverend Ike died in 2009 at the age of 74. His only son, Bishop Xavier, continues his father’s ministry. Like Ike, Xavier grew up in his father’s church. Like Peale’s ministry, Xavier states that his  combines

ministerial and psychotherapeutic work.

It also draws heavily on

ancient cultures.

Another Reverend Ike offering is his Pealesque Science of Living:

Some ‘religious’ people are going to be shocked by what I have to say next…

…You see, Rev. Ike’s teachings are based on the Bible, — but not the literal translation of the fundamentalists…

… Rev. Ike interprets the Bible SYMBOLICALLY, not literally.  He considers the Bible the greatest book of Mind Science  — the greatest book of spiritual psychology —  ever written!

When he gets through with you, the
Bible will never be the same…

You will UNDERSTAND it for the
first time in your life!

Note the Gnosticism.

With Reverend Ike and Norman Vincent Peale, the Bible became a self-help book, not two Testaments of God’s covenants and redemption through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith to Peale and Ike revolved around self-belief. According to them, there is no Gospel of grace and no Holy Trinity active in our lives.

There is nothing wrong with much of self-help as such — however, it does not belong in church and is not Christianity.

Positive thinking for everyday survival is all well and good. But it is not the holy, God-centred message of the Bible. Nor is the Bible a set of fortune-cookie verses.

Therefore, those who are interested in positive thinking would do well to study the practical information in self-help books but avoid confusing their content with faith, grace, Christian belief and history as spelled out in Holy Scripture. Let’s not forget Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:21:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Our treasure should be set on Jesus Christ and praying for divine grace so that we live with Him for all eternity.

There is no Gnostic Secret in the Bible. Some preachers are getting rich off CDs, books and ‘churches’. This fortune rarely extends to the people sitting in the pews.

Tomorrow: Joel Osteen

This Christmas season I have featured a number of posts on carols as well as Dr Paul Copan‘s theological perspectives from his article ‘The First Christmas: Myths and Realities’. (Previous posts on this article include ‘Compliments of the season to all my readers!’ and ‘Angel imagery in Christmas carols’.)

Copan, a theologian and author, has written several books about Christianity in light of the Bible. Highly recommended, in my opinion, is his book Is God a Moral Monster? It gives an excellent explanation of God’s actions in the Old Testament.

In his first Christmas article (see the section called Docetism in Our Hymnody and Theology), Copan cautions us against potential heresy with regard to Jesus (emphases outside of the bullet points mine):

This line from “Away in a Manger” is quite familiar to us: “The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes. . . .” This picture presents a Jesus who apparently never cried as an infant—and perhaps that he never soiled his diapers and never made a mess eating as baby. However, we must be careful about overemphasizing Jesus’ deity and underemphasizing his humanity. This is the heresy of “docetism.” (The word docetism is a derived from the Greek dokeō, meaning “(I) appear, seem.” The Christ seemed human but really wasn’t.)

This is a version of Gnosticism, which came to full bloom in the second century AD. It emphasized the following ideas: (a) a secret, saving knowledge (gnōsis) or illumination is available only to a select “enlightened” few; ignorance, not sin, is the ultimate human problem; (b) the body/matter is evil, and the spirit/soul is good—a belief that tended to produce extreme self-denial (asceticism); (c) an eternal dualism exists between a good Being/God and an inferior evil being/god (who created matter); so the creator in Genesis is an inferior intermediary between the ultimate/true God (the Pleroma—“Fullness”) and this world; (d) history is unimportant and insignificant; if Jesus (the Christ) played any part in Gnostic belief systems, he only appeared to be human but was really divine; God couldn’t take on an evil human body or suffer on a cross.

We can commit the same Gnostic error by focusing on Jesus’ divinity and downplaying his humanity. The same applies to Jesus’ temptation. We may say, “Of course Jesus didn’t sin. He was God.” The Scriptures portray Jesus as someone who struggled; it was not a breeze for him to do the will of his Father. He was not play-acting:

  • Hebrews 4:15: For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
  • Hebrews 5:8: Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 

So, when you sing “Away in a Manger” this Christmas season, you may want to do what our family does—adjust the words a bit: “The little Lord Jesus *some* crying he makes”!

Dr R Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, has discussed the recent papyrus fragment discovery which has made a sensational splash in the press. He points out that various similar discoveries have been around since the 1890s.

Clark explains that various versions of Jesus’s life began appearing during the first few centuries AD:

So, we cannot be surprised that Karen King has found a fourth-century fragment from Alexandria. Of course she did! There were lots of folk running about in the 4th century, many of them Alexandria, teaching all many of crazy things (e.g., Jesus had a wife). The general media seem to have no idea that scholars have long been aware of  texts alleging to be written by Jesus himself. There was a Coptic (Egyptian) “Sophia (Wisdom) of Jesus Christ.” This was a 4th/5th-century text brought to Cairo in the 1890s. Of course, the  most famous (or notorious) competing Gospel the Gnostic “Gospel of Thomas,” a collection of 114 sayings (logia) which “Thomas” attributes to our Lord. It dates perhaps to the the first half of the 3rd century and presents a rather different account of our Lord’s teaching.

Perhaps some of you, as I do, wonder why we a) see a proliferation as well as popularity of such documents and b) why they were written in the first place.

Clark explains the struggle Gnostics — heretics — have with Christianity (emphases mine):

The second-century fathers, i.e., the Apostolic Fathers, argued that the truth always precedes error and that the Gnostics and other (spirit v matter) dualists were derivative of Christianity. The objective evidence actually supports their position but there has been a movement since at least Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy (1934) to say that the categories “orthodox” and “heretical” are arbitrary and that what we consider “orthodoxy” was really the result of politics and the exercise of power. Dan Brown anyone?

In our late-modern age, which is deeply skeptical about the existence of any sort of “orthodoxy,” is quite prepared to believe that the orthodoxy of the early fathers was really the result of politics and not the consequence of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. The great problem for this (now) fashionable and (apparently) attractive (hypo)thesis is that it relies on assumptions, misconceptions, and generally very late texts. The canonical gospels were established at least a century (and more) before the Gnostic texts.

Clark explains simply and clearly the heresy of Gnosticism:

Yes, there were movements that were derivative of Christianity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The church reacted to them. Her theologians, e.g., Justin, Irenaeus, Polycarp and others, responded by showing how the biblical account of Christianity taught a view of creation that was completely contrary to the spirit-matter dualism of the Gnostics (and other dualists). They showed how Jesus and the Apostles taught a view of God, man, salvation, redemptive history, and the church that contradicted the claims of the Gnostics (and Gnostic-influenced Christians). Where the Gnostics made salvation a question of overcoming matter and sort of ladder climbing process up a hierarchy of being, Jesus and the Apostles taught that Jesus, God the Son incarnate, true God and true man, had come down from heaven for us and our salvation. Where the Gnostics made salvation a matter of obtaining esoteric, secret knowledge (hence Gnosticism), Jesus and the Apostles taught openly and plainly, in public, for all to see and hear. Where the Gnostics denigrated the goodness of creation and made the OT the story of a crude demi-god, Jesus and the Apostles taught the unity of the history of salvation, and the goodness of creation before the fall.

Conspiracy theories sell books and cinema tickets but this discussion isn’t about the recent discovery secret texts hitherto hidden by corrupt, powerful, self-interested authorities but rather the ancient struggle between two accounts of God, man, Christ, salvation, and revelation. The late modern era seems quite taken with the Gnostic account (as Peter Jones has been noting for a couple of decades). Edwin Yamauchi (Pre-Christian Gnosticism: A Survey of the Proposed Evidences (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973), showed, to my satisfaction, long ago that the pro-Gnostic interpretation of Christianity (that “orthodoxy” is really the heresy here) doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.

Now for my personal observation, which concerns the latest Bible commentaries. Hmm. It seems that many who use the most recent commentaries — and make a point of purchasing them because they are new interpretations — are at least peripherally tied to or attracted by Gnosticism. I am mystified that ‘Christians’ could read the New Testament purely as socio-political history or as mystical books. Where an orthodox Christian reads the promise of salvation, the pseudo-Gnostic sees allegory right the way through (i.e. as someone described the Gospel of John!).

It seems that a number of nominal Christians in our era have more faith in their own power or so-called superior knowledge than in the mercy and redemptive grace of Jesus Christ. Hence, the thirst for or haste in throwing out His teachings on eternal life for those who are faithful and repent of their sins, not to mention His condemnation (eternally) for unbelief — the greatest sin of all (see John’s Gospel). For them, anything other than a late 20th or early 21st perspective on Scripture is fundamentalist and literalist. That is far from being the case, but, as Clark says, to them, orthodoxy is the heresy. One Anglican vicar described biblical faith as ‘something for children’. I would invite that man to read the Thirty-Nine Articles or the Reformed Confessions, especially the Westminster Confessions of Faith. It would be interesting to hear what he would have to say afterwards.

Any reading of redemption and grace appears to be fundamentalist or literalist for pseudo-Gnostics.

Christian students of the Bible would do well to ask themselves if they wish to read heresy into it or if they wish to absorb what the unchanging truth of Holy Scripture says to them.

Hence my caution about what commentaries. Caveat emptor. Read online reviews before making that vital purchase.

A couple of weeks ago, news appeared in the blogosphere that the well-known Baptist pastor John Piper and the Roman Catholic Lectio Divina proponent Beth Moore appeared recently at the Passion 2012 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. (H/T: Anna Wood)

The Revd Ken Silva from Apprising Ministries carries the story (emphases mine):

It’s an incontrovertible fact that right from its hatching in hell corrupt Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism (CSM), such as that taught by Living Spiritual Teacher and Quaker mystic Richard Foster along with his spiritual twin and Southern Baptist minister Dallas Willard, was a core doctrine

It’s also giving rise to a rebirth of Pietism; this isn’t surprising when you consider that CSM flowered in the antibiblical monastic traditions of apostate Roman Catholicism. As the evangelical fad of CSM expands there’s a decided charismania also developing, which is producing a syncretism where Word Faith heretics like Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are essentially considered mainstream now. With all of this has come more and more people claiming to have direct experience with God

Hosted by Louis Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Passion featured an interesting lineup of speakers such Francis Chan, Beth Moore and New Calvinist mentor John Piper. Not surpisingly the conference had a distinctive charismatic and even contemplative flair; e.g. prayer walking. After one session the crowd was urged to break into “love groups” and go out to pray and “take back the city of Atlanta.”

One can certainly point a finger at the Roman Catholic Church, but, as I wrote in the comments on Anna’s site, what has occurred at Passion 2012 is more symptomatic of 17th century Lutheran/Moravian pietism in general and of the Holiness movement which dates back to 19th century Methodism and advanced in the following century through the many Holiness denominations. Ultimately, this led to our current charismatic services and Pentecostal churches.

John Wesley borrowed heavily from Moravian pietists whose acquaintance he made on the journey from England to America. After his return to Europe, he even studied at their HQ in Herrnhut, Germany.

Although pietism has its most ancient beginnings in the earliest days of the Church, it was later revived when Germans and Scandinavians became disillusioned with ‘staid’ state churches and wanted something more.

Today, however, I am sorry to read that Dr Piper — a confessional, or Particular, Baptist — has fallen for more pietistic holiness (Rick Warren being the foremost example), hallmarks of which include contemplative prayer, Quaker quietism (‘let go and let God’ — wait until you get a ‘sign’ of some sort), small groups, personal accountability, public confession, overt sentimentality, strong emotional worship, receiving ‘divine messages’ and personal testimony over doctrine (or the Bible).

Yet, these activities are everywhere. Even Church of England vicars encourage them — contemplative prayer, especially. A number of Anglican churches offer days or mornings of ‘silent prayer’, which is the same thing.

Pietism is known for its ecumenism, so it’s no surprise that Passion 2012 featured speakers from a variety of Christian denominations.  Unfortunately, those denominations which practice pietism — holiness churches, in particular — will be affected by these cross-currents.  The Church of the Nazarene has experienced an onslaught of Fuller Seminary and Roman Catholic influence: The Reformed Nazarene blog chronicles them in detail. I empathise with Nazarenes who wish to keep their denomination pure, but, ultimately, this is the outcome of pietism and the holiness movement.  The Nazarenes emerged from the Wesleyan holiness movement in the 19th century.

Pietism is experiential, emotional and introspective. It seeks to transform denominations, if not the Church as a whole, in order to bring about personal and moral change.

Bob DeWaay, who has been in discernment ministry most of his life, admits to having fallen prey to pietism:

My journey into the “deeper life” oftentimes involved embracing contradictory teachings. For example, two of my favorite teachers in the early 1970’s were Watchman Nee and Kenneth Hagin. One taught a deeper Christian life through suffering[1]) and the other taught a higher order Christianity that could cause one to be free from bodily ailments and poverty.[2]The hook was that both claimed to have the secret to becoming an extraordinary Christian. I found out that they didn’t.

My dissatisfaction with the Christianity taught in Bible College[3] led me to join a Christian commune some months after graduation. That group’s founder taught that all ordinary churches and Bible Colleges were caught up in “religious Babylon.” He taught that the kingdom of God was to be found by quitting one’s job, selling one’s possessions, giving the money to the commune, and moving in together to be devoted to the “kingdom” twenty four hours a day. So in my search to become an extraordinary Christian I did what he said and joined …

By God’s grace I went back to the Bible and determined to merely teach verse by verse from that point on. It took another five or six years to rid myself of the various errors I had embraced and then I taught Romans in 1986. Through that study I came to appreciate the doctrines of grace. That understanding opened my thinking and was the turning point for my ministry. I also came to realize that the wrong-thinking that attracted me to pietism was that I held to a theology based on human ability rather than grace alone. Once I grasped that, I never looked back …

Pietism can be practiced many ways including enforced solitude, asceticism of various forms, man made religious practices, legalism, submission to human authorities who claim special status, and many other practices and teachings

These appear to most poorly taught Christians to be what the Lord wants. They reason, “Of course God is happier with a person who sells all and moves into a convent where he takes an oath of poverty than He is with someone who goes to work forty hours a week and uses some of the money to buy things.” Is He? When I was a pietist, if someone told me he prayed two hours a day, then I had to pray three hours to make sure I wasn’t missing out on something. I reasoned, “Of course God is happier with a Christian who prays three hours than one who prays two.” Is He? When I was a pietist I would work on cranking up my desire for holiness because I reasoned that holiness is found through something in the person rather than through God’s grace. Based on sermons I’d heard I reasoned, “Christians are not experiencing a higher degree of holiness because they do not desire it enough.” Is that true? No, none of these pietistic statements are true. Such teachings lead to elitism and comparing ourselves to others. The Bible tells us not to do that. Paul stated that these practices “are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”

I, along with confessional Lutherans, would disagree with DeWaay when he goes on to say that Spener was not a pietist but only reacting against a State Church. Spener’s theology was deeply pietist in that he promoted small groups (conventicles), agonised repentance and giving up worldly entertainments. He promoted justification by works through holiness and self-deprivation.

However, DeWaay rightly cites John Wesley as being a pietist:

Wesley’s Methodism and perfectionism were themselves pietistic. Wesley is an example of a much less extreme pietism. But the idea that some humanly discovered and implemented method can lead to the achievement of a better Christian life than through the ordinary means of grace is nevertheless pietism.

He is careful to draw a line between Wesley and Charles Finney, pre-eminent during the Second Great Awakening in the United States:

Wesley at least held to prevenient grace so as to avoid Pelagianism.[20] Finney was fully Pelagian in his approach to both salvation and sanctification.[21] And his innovations permanently changed much of American Evangelicalism. After Finney other perfectionist movements arose. The Holiness movement, for example, came not long after Finney. Both the Holiness movement and the subsequent Pentecostal movement held to second blessing doctrines that by nature are pietist because they create an elite category of Christians who have had a special experience that ordinary Christians lack.

DeWaay calls our attention to the Emergent Church and Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church as the most recent examples of pietism:

Today the largest new pietist movement is the Emergent Church. As I pointed out earlier, pietism often arises in response to the perception (sometimes warranted) that the church has become too worldly and it seems true once again today. Some now assume that since ordinary Christianity is compromised, they must discover an extraordinary way to become better Christians. One Emergent leader has even entitled one of his works, “A New Kind of Christian.”[22] But this movement really isn’t all that new. It draws on teachings and practices found in other pietist movements in church history. In fact, a recent Emergent book includes essays by those experimenting with communal living, something I tried in my pietist days![23]

Furthermore, the Purpose Driven movement is also a pietistic movement. Rick Warren claims there are world class Christians that are in a better category than ordinary Christians. He had his followers take a long oath at a baseball field to pledge themselves to serving his new reformation. I already mentioned the apostles and prophets movement that is pietistic. So ironically, three huge movements in American evangelicalism (Purpose Driven, Emergent, and C. Peter Wagner’s latter day apostles) are all based on pietism. The three movements seem radically diverse, but each one claims to be a new reformation and each offers a higher status than that of ordinary Christians.

He cautions us against movements preaching against ‘dead orthodoxy’ and notes that the Charismatics are also pietist in this regard.

He also notes that the problem is not with orthodoxy but with church members, who are often spiritually dead:

Pietism misdiagnoses the problem and creates a false solution. It sees a compromised church that is apparently caught in dead orthodoxy. The real problem is not dead orthodoxy but spiritually dead sinners who give mental assent to orthodox truth but show no signs of regeneration. If indeed such a church existed (if truth really is there God has His remnant there as well), that church would be characterized by worldliness and sin. This is the case because dead sinners do not bear spiritual fruit. There was a church in Revelation that Jesus called “dead.” Pietism that holds to the true gospel but goes beyond it imagining that the dead sinners who are church members are Christians. When some of them become regenerate through the efforts of the pietists, they assume they have now entered a higher class of Christianity. They posit two types of Christian: “carnal” Christians and “spiritual” Christians. But in reality there are only Christians and dead sinners. 

DeWaay writes that pietists end up ignoring the Gospel message in favour of works righteousness:

When I was a pietist I thought salvation was an interesting first step a person took, but mostly lost interest in the topic unless I ran across someone who needed to pray the sinners prayer, which I imagined was the first step. The gospel of Christ was only of marginal interest to me as I sought the “deeper things.” The more I tried to be a very special type of Christian, the further my mind wandered from the cross. I was guilty of the very thing for which Paul rebuked the Corinthians.

It seems that people fall for pietism in its various guises because it gives them a sense of reassurance — misguided though it is. Charismatics and Pentecostalists enjoy the heady experiences of being ‘born again’ — speaking in tongues, for instance — something they can do and feel.  Others believe that dressing differently sets them ‘apart’ from the world as does abstaining from alcohol, tobacco and certain foodstuffs. Hence, some desire to join faith communes, which is radical pietism. Then, there are the ‘mystics’ who follow Lectio Divina and believe they are channelling a ‘higher consciousness’, who are most likely Christian refugees from the New Age movement.  This leads to a Gnosticism of sorts — a supposed special, secret knowledge or spiritual attainment that other people lack.

Sadly, this desire to ‘experience’ Christianity can lead people down the paths of error: Pelagianism and Gnosticism are heresies.  The rest of us would do well to pray for these people and hope that God’s grace leads them to a true confessional denomination.

When the Georgia Guidestones first appeared in the news in 1980, I was at university:

Elbert County owns the Georgia Guidestones site. According to the Georgia Mountain Travel Association’s detailed history: “The Georgia Guidestones are located on the farm of Mildred and Wayne Mullenix…”[3] The Elbert County land registration system shows what appears to be the Guidestones as County land purchased on October 1, 1979. [4][5]

The monument was unveiled in March 1980, with the presence of 100 people.[6] Another account specifies March 22, 1980 and said 400 people attended.[2]

My friends and I discussed it in the dining hall. One said, ‘It’s really evil — all about population control.’ I, on the other hand, found the messages quite intriguing and perfect for the end of the 20th century.  Our group had a dinnertime discussion about the morality and ethics behind the ‘ten guides for a New Age of Reason’ (image at left courtesy of Wikipedia):

1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
2. Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity.
3. Unite humanity with a living new language.
4. Rule passion – faith – tradition – and all things with tempered reason.
5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
8. Balance personal rights with social duties.
9. Prize truth – beauty – love – seeking harmony with the infinite.
10. Be not a cancer on the earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature.

I accused my friend of not having bothered reading past the first point, to which she said, ‘A “world court” would be really problematic. It would be like the UN. This is the United States of America! We don’t need world courts!’

In her Midwestern state, many people outside the larger towns and cities were deeply suspicious of the United Nations. It was not unusual for someone in that part of the world to pay in perpetuity for a billboard in the countryside that said ‘Get US out of the UN!’ At that time, the only people who thought like that had read books by the John Birch Society or heard their ideas discussed by friends or family.

So, I ignored what she had to say and forgot all about the Georgia Guidestones. Everyone else in our group was more anti- than pro-, by the way.

Over the past couple of years, however, I started reading about them again online. My occasional correspondent, Rogue Lutheran, sent me a few links to peruse in 2010, which got me going.

Thirty years on, after having reread the ten guides and the articles, I now think that the whole concept and content are rather depressing. So, my sincere apologies to Rogue Lutheran for not having written on them earlier.

It turns out that we still don’t know who paid for this humanist monument de nos jours, although speculation abounds. The only thing we know is that its sponsors are or were

A small group
of Americans who seek
the Age of Reason.

The author of this multilingual message is one R C Christian, which is a pseudonym. The word is misspelled on the stone as ‘pseudonyn’. I bet whoever commissioned it is rather annoyed about that.

Those who are familiar with esoteric (gnostic) societies surmise that R C Christian is a person (or persons) involved in Rosicrucianism, which used to be advertised in the back of Sunday newspaper supplements. They also call for

a global religion, world courts, and for population levels to be maintained at around 500 million, over a 5.5 billion reduction from current levels. The stones infer that humans are a cancer upon the earth and should be culled in order to maintain balance with nature.”[8]

Throughout the 1970s, overpopulation, the biosphere (as it was called then) and pollution were big news. The word ‘ecologist’ went mainstream at that time. These were experts, don’t you know, and I took what they had to say seriously. Guest editorials in newspapers and cover articles in newsweeklies covered these subjects regularly.

Back then, our society was much freer and much more given — in my opinion — to conspicuous consumption. Maybe it was just newer then; it was certainly cheaper. People also seemed happier, although not as happy as they were in the 1960s.  However, we had fewer laws then, although the clamour for more regulation of industry was increasing.

Now that we are in the 21st century, we have more laws not only for businesses but also many of a personal nature — more than we even know about.  It seems to me, that regardless of who devised the ten guides, we are being forced into them. Even OccupyZine — the magazine of the Occupy movement — has called them to its adherents’ attention.

The OccupyZine link directs readers to an article published by the Vigilant Citizen in 2010 called ‘Sinister Sites: The Georgia Guidestones’.

Vigilant Citizen (VC) writes:

As you can see, the guidelines call for a drastic reduction of the world population, the adoption of new a world language, the creation of a world court and a vague allusions to eugenics. In other words, a blueprint for a New World Order.

The first “commandment” is particularly shocking, since it basically stipulates that 12 out of 13 people on Earth should not exist; basically, that would mean everybody in the world would disappear except half of India. If today’s world population is 6,7 billion, then that is a 92.54% surplus. To consider these figures is mind-boggling. But then, how many people survived in the movie 2012? Not many. Who were they? The earth’s wealthiest people. Is this predictive programming?

The last rule of the Guidestones, “Be not a cancer on the earth – leave room for nature – leave room for nature” is particularly disturbing as it compares human life to cancer on earth. With this state of mind, it is easy to rationalize the extinction of nearly all of the world’s population.

VC also notes:

The second rule (“Guide reproduction wisely – improving diversity and fitness”) basically calls for the inference of lawmakers into the management of family units. If we read between the lines, it requires to creation of laws structuring the number of children per family. Furthermore, “improving diversity and fitness” can be obtained with “selective breeding” or the sterilization of undesirable members of society. This used to be called “eugenics”, until it became politically incorrect because of the Nazis.

VC has read the Georgia Guidestones Guidebook and provides several helpful quotations from it which promote the idea of a world government and world courts.

In their own words, the authors have chosen to stay anonymous

in order to avoid debate and contention which might confuse our meaning, and which might delay a considered review of our thoughts. We believe that our precepts are sound. They must stand on their own merits …

Fair enough. But they also are in favour of

A diverse and prosperous world population in perpetual balance with global resources will be the cornerstone for a rational world order. People of good will in all nations must work to establish that balance …

With the completion of the central cluster of The Georgia Guidestones our small sponsoring group has disbanded. We leave the monument in the safekeeping of the people of Elbert County, Georgia.

If our inscribed words are dimmed by the wear of wind and sun and time, we ask that you will cut them deeper. If the stones should fall, or if they be scattered by people of little understanding. we ask that you will raise them up again.

Ugh.

We have enough laws controlling our own behaviour as it is. I predict that the exponential increase in laws regulating personal conduct will be the theme which history shows as characteristic of the first two decades of the 21st century.

VC explains that R C Christian (emphases in the original):

is a clear reference to Christian Rosenkreuz whose English name is Christian Rose Cross, the legendary founder of the Rosicrucian Order. Some might say that the resemblance between R.C. Christian and Christian Rose Cross is the result of an odd coincidence. As we will see, it is however only one of the MANY references to Rosicrucianism associated with the monument. This is only one piece of the puzzle, but an important piece nonetheless.

Rosenkreuz (1378 – 1484) was kidnapped as a five-year old by an Albigensian and raised in one of their monasteries.  Therefore, he fell under the Bogomilist spell with the Albigenses in the south of France. Bogomilism is a heresy which is again picking up in popularity.

VC has also picked up on the loss of personal liberties and freedom:

Reading between the lines, the Guidestones require from the masses the loss of many personal liberties and to submit to heightened governmental control on many social issues … not to mention the death of 92.5% of the population…and probably not those of the “elite”. Is the concept of a democracy “by and for the people”, as idealized by the Founding Fathers a mere illusion, a temporary solution until the introduction of  socialist world government? Why are the world’s citizens not being consulted in a democratic matter? I guess it is easier for the elites to manufacture consent through mass medias. But maybe it won’t work on everybody…

Someone defaced one of the tablets in 2008, but the stones must be pretty securely placed to have survived intact — outside of a few chips — up to now.

It seems that this would be a good subject for Sunday School ethics classes for those in secondary school. If you’re reading this and happen to teach a class of youngsters, it would make a good lesson or two on discernment.

One of the links Rogue Lutheran sent me is from Van’s Hardware Journal. Don’t be dissuaded by the name of the blog; this post, ‘Decoding the Georgia Guidestones’, tells the local story.  As mentioned earlier, no one is sure of the identity of R C Christian, however, there are even a few local Elberton possibilities, including someone who closely followed Alice A Bailey’s Theosophist teachings, which she and her husband turned into the Lucifer Publishing Company in 1920. It is now Lucis Trust and well known for its New Age publications.

The Baileys’ Lucis Trust and their Arcane School, Van tells us (emphases mine):

have become very influential organizations and appear to be favored as the blueprint for a United Nations endorsed world religion.

A central theme in this Theosophical lineage … is the idea that man can attain divinity. As such, God becomes the jealous adversary working to thwart man’s elevation to godhood. Satan, or, more commonly in modern occult circles, Lucifer is seen as man’s ally, the Bringer of Light, the Bestower of Knowledge.

Therefore, it is a blend of Pelagianism — man’s ‘divinity’ — with satanic ideas and gnosticism, or secret knowledge.

Van’s Hardware Journal explains a possible Guidestones scenario for the unfortunate masses — well worth using if you ever teach this subject:

Through a state run eugenics program, Christian believes the world can produce “healthier and more productive human beings” over each succeeding generation. “Superior human intelligence, compassion and drive” and other “desirable mental and physical qualities” can also be enhanced under such eugenic conditions.

Humorously yet sinisterly, Christian cites “docility” and “loyalty” achieved through selective breeding in dogs as evidence that “comparable but more important modifications” in human behavior can be achieved through eugenics.

In R.C. Christian’s “Age of Reason,” even if the state allows you to have children, you will be required to raise them under strict conditions so as to “mold their characters and to develop their potentials as socially worthwhile adults.”

That is, if the state even allows you to keep them.

Because even if you and your spouse are considered good breeding stock, the state might find you “temperamentally unsuited for parenthood.” In which case, your children will be transferred “to the care of others capable of nurturing them into well adjusted adulthood”

And don’t think that you are safe just because you lined up for voluntary sterilization.

For instance, if the economy is bad and you lose your job, in Robert Christian’s rational world order, you will have to become a slave of the state to survive. You won’t be able to vote and you will be compelled to work jobs often held by illegal immigrants, who will then be displaced back to their native lands. If you don’t like your job and quit, you will starve.

Not only will you have to be suitably employed or own a private business to vote, you will also have to pass both intelligence and “educational requirements” tests to prove to the state that you are worthy of the right of suffrage. Want to run for public office? Robert Christian has more tests that you will need to pass first.

Speaking of rights, you will have none if Christian gets his way. Rights to him are privileges that the state will only bestow upon you if you properly serve the state.

And don’t forget your identity card! In Christian’s nightmare world, everyone is required to carry with them a unique biometric ID card. Without one you will not be able to get work or get government help.

Okay, so you are a good citizen in Christian’s new age world. You might be allowed to have children. You might be allowed to raise them. You might be lucky enough to find a suitable job so that you can vote.

Just be sure not to get sick or injured, because Christian believes the state must ration health care “favoring those individuals whose continuing lives are most valuable” to the state.

But you were injured because your new Halliburton electric toothbrush exploded in your right hand, blowing it off at the wrist and blinding you for life. Surely, you have recourse to litigation. No, Christian wants to place caps on litigation and let financial damage beyond this limit fall to his state’s wonderfully efficient and fair health and welfare system.

Unfortunately, that means that since you can no longer work, you will lose your voting privileges, almost certainly lose your child because you will not be able to care for him properly on welfare and you will receive the lowest standard of medical care available because you are no longer productive for the state.

It’s all very rational and reasonable in Christian’s mind.

Yet, I run across a number of commenters on British and American blogs who also (sadly) would find this all perfectly reasonable.

What does the Bible say about each of these ten guides of our time?

Short answer: obey the Ten Commandments and one will have no need for the ten guides.

The alleged slayer of retired Englishwoman Jennifer Mills-Westley is probably not a Christian, despite misleading newspaper reports.  The Telegraph briefly touches on linking Deyan Valentinov Deyanov, a 28-year-old Bulgarian, to the heresy of Bogomilism, but never ties the strands together.

It’s a bit like saying Josef Stalin was Russian Orthodox all his life because he attended seminary and Adolf Hitler was a practising Catholic because that was the church in which he was raised. Ditto Deyanov with his deranged references to God and Jesus. This leaves the average person thinking, ‘Those Christians are nutters’.

First, the story, which shocked not only people in the Canary Islands, but the Spanish and British as well.  N.B.: If you have children looking over your shoulder or are of a sensitive disposition, please skip this post.

The Telegraph describes this gruesome attack, which took place on Friday, May 13, 2011 (emphases in bold mine):

The retired 60-year-old from Norwich was stabbed to death and beheaded in the horrific attack on Friday.

She alerted a security guard in the social security office that she had been subjected to “threatening behaviour” from an unwashed vagrant.

Her tormentor, a 28-year-old homeless man called Deyan Valentinov Deyanov, was well known in the popular holiday resort for his unpredictable and sometimes violent behaviour

It is unclear whether the Briton, a 60-year-old retired road safety officer from Norwich, was aware of the man’s dangerous reputation. After a few minutes Deyanov left and the danger seemed to have passed.

At about 10.15 on Friday morning Mrs Mills-Westley left the office doorway and walked to a Chinese-run discount store next door. Tragically, she there encountered Deyanov again and he attacked her, with grisly consequences.

Mrs Mills-Westley, who divided her time between Tenerife, Norfolk and France, was hacked to death by the Bulgarian, who reportedly claimed to be “a prophet of God” as he carried out the frenzied attack …

Deyanov had left a psychiatric unit where he was reportedly being treated for paranoid schizophrenia in February …

Before her retirement Mrs Mills-Westley gave cycling safety training to schoolchildren in Norfolk, and also worked on other road safety projects.

In Los Cristianos, at the southern tip of the Canary Islands, eyewitnesses described the scene of the crime as “something out of a horror movie”.

Colin Kirby, a British expatriate working at the Tenerife Magazine said: “I thought someone had fainted and walked on, then I heard screaming and looked behind and saw a scruffy, unkempt man in his mid 20s holding a head by the hair

Another witness told how he saw the man drop a bloodstained woman’s head on the pavement after coming out of the shop …

Dominica Fernandez, a government official, said the suspect had “chosen his victim by chance”. Deyanov was known to be sleeping rough in the streets and in an abandoned house in the resort.

Last night at the filthy location, there was still a Bible and a shrine made out of breeze blocks among scattered possessions. Deyanov was being held at the police station in nearby resort of Playa de Las Americas …

More details emerged on May 16 (CCTV picture of the man at the link):

Deyan Valentinov Deyanov, a 28-year-old Bulgarian, asked the store owner in Tenerife for a large knife and was caught on security camera spreading his arms to demonstrate the size he required.

When asked what he needed it for he said “I’m going to kill someone”, and drew a finger across his throat.

The shopkeeper, who said he recognised the man as a vagrant who slept in a derelict building nearby, refused his request and threw him out of the shop.

Within half an hour, Deyanov had entered another supermarket where he encountered Jennifer Mills-Westley, grabbed a knife from the shelf and cut off her head in a random attack …

Locals said Deyanov had become increasingly aggressive in recent weeks after splitting up with his girlfriend.

As recently as February, when he was discharged from a psychiatric hospital, he had told police that “in God’s name” he was “planning something big”

Others said he was a habitual user of marijuana and was often seen muttering to himself. In one incident he attacked a security guard who was patrolling the beach area, knocking out three teeth.

A shopkeeper described how on the morning of the attack the Bulgarian borrowed a pen to scrawl a note, and wrote: “I am God”. The security video footage shows the man searching the shelves of the hardware section of the supermarket on the seafront in Los Cristianos.

The visit to the shop was at around 10am on Friday. By 10.25am Mrs Mills-Westley … was dead.

Witnesses at the Chinese-run discount supermarket in the Valdes shopping centre … said he had severed her head with a long, thin, very sharp blade, the traditional knife used for carving Spanish ham.

After the attack, involving at least 14 blows of the knife, he severed her head and ran with it from the store carrying it by the hair. Police are examining the footage …

Among the piles of rubbish and old mattresses [in his squat] he had fashioned a makeshift shrine out of breeze blocks and made an icon of Jesus.

On May 17, it emerged that the suspect had lived in Edinburgh before moving to the Canaries:

His former flatmate in the Leith area of the city, Vlad Chmurny, 36, from Slovakia, said Deyan Deyanov, spent hours smoking drugs and “weeping” over his lack of friends.

Mr Chmurny said the Bulgarian left Scotland about a year ago after losing his job in the construction industry, before turning up unannounced three months ago, when he refused to allow him to stay …

Meanwhile in Tenerife, a security guard who was attacked by 28-year-old Deyanov four months ago, spoke about his ordeal.

Fermin Suarez Perez, 45, who lost three front teeth in the unprovoked assault, questioned how it was possible that his assailant had been freed to roam the streets just five days later

Mr Suarez, a former soldier in the Spanish military, said: “He ran up to me with a rock in his hands and tried to smash it into my head”

Deyanov, from the northern Bulgarian town of Ruse, was arrested the same day, but was freed on bail by a magistrate after spending five days in a psychiatric hospital …

It emerged that Deyanov, who has a three year old daughter living in Bulgaria, was obsessed with a medieval Christian sect known as Bogomilism. One of the tenets of the dualist religion, which was founded by the priest Bogomil in tenth century Bulgaria, was that the world was created by the Devil.

Before getting to Bogomilism, I have begun glancing over the discussion page whenever I peruse a Wikipedia article.  I found it particularly fascinating that this heretical perversion of Christianity appears to have so many defenders.  See for yourself.  Also, if you click on the map at the top of this post, you’ll be able to note the link to the Cathars, Albigenses and Waldenses, people who later turned to the Reformed churches.  This might partly explain why there is so much Catholic distrust of Calvinists in France and Italy.  There may be something deeper than the Reformation going on here.  This is a sensitive topic, especially when one reads Huguenot (Calvinist) histories of these mountain dwellers which present them as being martyrs for the faith.  I remain neutral on this but welcome contributions in the comments.

About Bogomilism, of which I’d never heard, Wikipedia says:

Bogomilism was a Gnostic religiopolitical sect founded in the First Bulgarian Empire by the priest Bogomil during the reign of Tsar Petar I in 10th century.[1][2][3] It most probably arose in what is today the region of Macedonia[4][5] as a response to the social stratification that occurred as a result of the introduction of feudalism and as a form of political movement and opposition to the Bulgarian state and the church.

The Bogomils called for a return to early Christianity, rejecting the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and their primary political tendencies were resistance to the state and church authorities. This helped the movement spread quickly in the Balkans, gradually expanding throughout the Byzantine Empire and later reaching Kievan Rus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dalmatia, Italy, France, and to a lesser extent the rest of Western Europe (even as far as the British Isles).

The Bogomils were dualists in that they believed the world was created not by the Abrahamic God, but by an evil demiurge — the Devil. They did not use the cross nor build churches, preferring to perform rituals outdoors.

The article is quite long — and most interesting.  You’ll find out all sorts of fascinating facts, so it’s worth grabbing a cuppa and a few biscuits.  Highlights include the following:

The term Bogomil in free translation means “dear to God”, and ultimately derives from the Proto-Slavic *bogъ (“God”) and *milъ (“dear”). It is difficult to ascertain whether the name was taken from the reputed founder of that movement, the priest Bogomil, or whether he assumed that name after it had been given to the sect itself. The word is an Old Church Slavonic calque of Massaliani, the Syriac name of the sect corresponding to the Greek Euchites. The Bogomils are identified with the Massaliani in Slavonic documents from the 13th century …

The now defunct Gnostic social-religious movement and doctrine originated in the time of Peter I of Bulgaria (927 – 969) as a reaction against state and clerical oppression of Byzantine church. In spite of all measures of repression, it remained strong and popular until the fall of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the end of the 14th century.

Bogomilism is the first significant Balkan heresy that came about in the first quarter of the 10th century

The constant change of authority over these lands, and the higher taxes during the time of Tsar Peter I, gave birth to a great social discontent at the beginning of the 10th century. Moreover, the corruption of the church as an institution, led to the grave disappointment among its recently converted flock.

The existence of older Christian heresies in the Bulgarian lands (Manichaeism and Paulicianism), which were considered very dualistic, influenced the Bogomil movement. Manichaeism’s origin is related to Zoroastrianism; that is why Bogomilism is sometimes indirectly connected to Zoroastrianism in the sense of its duality …

The Bogomils had a system of altered traditional orthodox beliefs and rituals. The essence behind their teaching was a dualistic doctrine that the world is divided by God and Satan (good and evil). God rules with the spiritual part of the world, and Satan with the material. They regarded every material being to be work of Satan, and therefore sinful. They also opposed established forms of government and church, which brings them close to modern anarchists

They had accepted the teaching of Paul of Samosata, though at a later period the name of Paul was believed to be that of the Apostle; and they were not quite free from the Dualistic principle of the Gnostics

As with other heresies, we see once again the fine line between truth and error and an interesting role for Satan.  We also see the use of magic rituals as well as the rejection of possessions and pleasure (a bit like today’s secular pietists):

The Bogomils taught that God had two sons, the elder Satanail and the younger Michael. The elder son rebelled against the father and became the evil spirit. After his fall he created the lower heavens and the earth and tried in vain to create man; in the end he had to appeal to God for the Spirit. After creation Adam was allowed to till the ground on condition that he sold himself and his posterity to the owner of the earth. Then Michael was sent in the form of a man; he became identified with Jesus, and was “elected” by God after the baptism in the Jordan. When the Holy Ghost (again Michael) appeared in the shape of the dove, Jesus received power to break the covenant in the form of a clay tablet (hierographon) held by Satanail from Adam. He had now become the angel Michael in a human form; as such he vanquished Satanail, and deprived him of the termination -il = God, in which his power resided. Satanail was thus transformed into Satan. Through his machinations the crucifixion took place, and Satan was the originator of the whole Orthodox community with its churches, vestments, ceremonies, sacraments and fasts, with its monks and priests. This world being the work of Satan, the perfect must eschew any and every excess of its pleasure. But the Bogomils did not go as far as to recommend asceticism.

They held the “Lord’s Prayer” in high respect as the most potent weapon against Satan, and had a number of conjurations against “evil spirits.” Each community had its own twelve “apostles,” and women could be raised to the rank of “elect.” The Bogomils wore garments like mendicant friars and were known as keen missionaries, traveling far and wide to propagate their doctrines. Healing the sick and exorcising the evil spirit, they traversed different countries and spread their apocryphal literature along with some of the books of the Old Testament, deeply influencing the religious spirit of the nations, and preparing them for the Reformation. They accepted the four Gospels, fourteen Epistles of Paul, the three Epistles of John, James, Jude, and an Epistle to the Laodiceans, which they professed to have. They sowed the seeds of a rich, popular religious literature in the East as well as the West. The Historiated Bible, the Letter from Heaven, the Wanderings through Heaven and Hell, the numerous Adam and Cross legends, the religious poems of the “Kaliki perehozhie” and other similar productions owe their dissemination to a large extent to the activity of the Bogomils of Bulgaria, and their successors in other lands.

The essence of Bogomilism is the duality in the creation of the world. This is exactly why it is considered a heresy. Bogomils explained the earthly sinful corporeal life as a creation of Satan, an angel that was sent to Earth. Due to this duality, their doctrine undervalues everything that is created with materialistic and governmental goals and that does not come from the soul, the only divine possession of the human. Therefore, the established Church, the state, and the hierarchy is totally undermined by Bogomilism. Its followers refuse to pay taxes, to work in serfdom, or to fight in conquering wars. The feudal social system was disregarded, which on its part was understood as suggesting disorder and propelling destruction for the state, the church by its progenitors, that ultimately eradicated the bogomils.

St. Paul had taught that simpleminded men should instruct one another; therefore they elected their “teachers” from among themselves to be their spiritual guides, and had no special priests. There is a tradition that the Bogomils taught that prayers were to be said in private houses, not in separate buildings such as churches.  Ordination was conferred by the congregation and not by any specially appointed minister. The congregation were the “elect,” and each member could obtain the perfection of Christ and become a Christ or “Chuist.” Marriage was not a sacrament. Scholars agree on that Bogomils refused to fast on Mondays and Fridays, and that they rejected monasticism. It is also held that they declared Christ to be the Son of God only through grace like other prophets, and that the bread and wine of the eucharist were not physically transformed into flesh and blood; that the last judgment would be executed by God and not by Jesus; that the images and the cross were idols and the veneration of saints and relics idolatry

The Legend of Saint Gerard discloses that followers of Bulgarian Bogomilism were present during the early 11th century … They invoked Archangel Uriel, whose name is common in amulets and magic rituals.

As for their the spread of their influence and coming under the attention of the established Church:

The popes in Rome whilst leading the Crusade against the Albigenses did not forget their counterpart in the Balkans and recommended the annihilation of the heretics

The Bogomils were the connecting link between the so-called heretical sects of the East and those of the West.[citation needed] They were, moreover, the most active agents in disseminating such teachings in Kievan Rus’ and among all the nations of Europe. In the 12th and 13th century, the Bogomils were already known in the West as “Cathars” or in other places as “Bulgari”, i.e. Bulgarians (българи). In 1207 the Bulgarorum heresis is mentioned. In 1223 the Albigenses are declared to be the local Bougres, and in the same period mention is made of the “Pope of the Albigenses who resided within the confines of Bulgaria” (see also Nicetas, Bogomil bishop). The Cathars and Patarenes, the Waldenses, the Anabaptists, and in Russia the Strigolniki, Molokani and Doukhobors, have all at different times been either identified with the Bogomils or closely connected with them.

They are also connected with the term ‘buggery’:

An English profanity and the name of a crime emerged from reports of the Bogomils by the Catholic Church. The words “bugger” and “buggery” emerged, by way of the word “bougre” in French, from “Bulgar” (Bulgarian), which was understood to mean the Bogomils, who were believed to be devoted to the practice of sodomy.[8] “Buggery” first appears in English in 1330, though “bugger” in a sexual sense is not recorded until 1555.

Hmm.  Just as an aside, there still exists in France today the expression ‘bon bougre‘, or ‘good old boy’ — a well-intentioned country bumpkin or hillbilly.

Recently, I cancelled a subscription to a travel magazine which began featuring an increasing number of articles on the Cathar region.  I had read elsewhere this year — in an offline publication — about a few secret weekend rituals still performed in the region which attract people from all over Europe as participants.  Very strange.  The article said that these weekends away have initiation rites and that one leaves a ‘completely different person’.

On Balkan religious practice, I do remember my mother and paternal grandmother being rather suspicious of people from those countries, advising me to check what religion they practiced before making friends with them.  Now and then, we met Displaced Persons (‘DPs’) who were resettled in the United States after the Second World War.  If they were Orthodox or Roman Catholic, as all of the ones we met were, there was no problem. However, I was advised to avoid people who adhered to ‘sects’.  It seems that the women of my family might well have had Bogomilism and its offshoots in mind.

Be that as it may, it wouldn’t surprise me if more of the ancient heresies resurfaced in pure form  — to get back to one’s European ‘roots’, as it were.

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