Thank you for your prompt reply to both my letter and the PLAIN THINGS article. Thank you also for your pamphlet, THE ARK BUILDER. I have a busy life right now, and it has not allowed me the leisure to sit down and write for quite awhile. Nonetheless, the subject has never been far from my mind, and I have prayed, thought, and studied much on it since receiving your response.
I appreciate your prayer that God would help me to understand and hear you out with an open and humble mind. I need that. I want God to open my mind to truth, and I desperately need humility. The more humble a man is about his position, the less far he has too fall when disproven. Even though I believe beyond all shadow of reasonable doubt that our premise concerning the teachings of Jesus Christ and the New Testament is correct, yet I know that we are very fallible humans, and the arguments we make to defend that premise may fall flat on their face when exposed to the truth. I am told that one of Soren Kierkegaard’s strongest beliefs was that "God wants people to obey Him, not argue for Him." I think that's true, and I have no desire for this discussion to turn into a mere argument. When humans argue over things too high for then too fully understand, God is not honored, nobody is edified, and all we have done is made a lot of noise.
But Jude urges us to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. And so, with caution, I proceed; because the faith which you are preaching, though you believe it to be the faith once delivered, was not understood by our forefathers in the faith to be the true faith once delivered.
But before going any further, I would like to acknowledge an embarrassing mistake on our part. When Aaron wrote in his introduction to my article in PLAIN THINGS that you attempt to "take us back to the Goo of the Old Testament," that was a very poor choice of words. We certainly believe that the God of the Old Testament is the same God as the God of the New, and that before Abraham was, Jesus Christ was the great "I AM." We have zero respect for the gnostic idea of a lesser god being the god of the Old Testament, while today we serve a greater God. That is ignorant foolishness, and we stand with you in condemning it. Furthermore, we believe that the two covenants harmonize perfectly, when properly understood.
However, when Aaron said what he did, he was making a point that still stands, even though his word choice was poor. You are attempting to take us to a view of God that is very Old Covenant, in many ways; although you can never be entirely in agreement with even the Old Covenant. In many ways, you are taking your readers and followers back to God as he was understood by people who lived before the coming of the Messiah and His glorious new Kingdom. You are taking them back to God as He was understood within the context of an earthly kingdom and a fleshly Israel - at least in part. But I suspect not even you yourself would be interested in entirely following the moral law of God that was revealed to them then.
Now, about your letter to me: First of all, I was very disappointed that you did not do for the book that I sent you what you expected us to do for the books you sent us. You expected us to carefully read your books, and then respond with clear explanations of what was wrong, with them and why we disagreed. However, when I send you a book, you respond with a very short paragraph, sweeping the book under the table. A shrug of your shoulders, and the matter is dismissed. "It has chasms," you say, "lacking Scripture and common sense." But you do not bother to explain what those are. And then you say that you see in him similar indoctrination as you see in me, when I state that the conclusion we reach “harmonizes with the conclusion the vast majority of true, God-fearing Christians throughout history have reached.” This statement assumes far too much, you say; and insist that I will be surprised at who were the true godly Christians through the ages. Let me just say that, if the true, God-fearing Christians throughout history were those who believed it was okay to go to war and fight for a just cause, or to resist with physical force someone who was coming against them or their loved ones, I will be very surprised indeed. If I discover that those who stubbornly held to a very literal interpretation of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount were in error, and even gave their lives for that cause in vain, I will be surprised; and so will many others.
You wondered if my statement about the honest student of Scripture going for help was an accusation. Let me confirm that for you: It was. You can not be an honest student of Scripture and ignore the voices of the great cloud of witnesses that cry out throughout history, voicing their understanding of the Scriptures. If you pursue an interpretation of Scripture that places you at odds with those early church fathers who sat at the feet of the apostles and learned from them, you are treading on dangerous ground. I intend to go into this at length shortly, because the early Christians provide a resounding universal witness in support of a literal, simple explantion of the teachings of Christ. Their conclusions do not harmonize with yours.
Before we go there, however, let's talk about your offer for a 1,000 dollar reward to anyone who can refute, with Scripture, the message of The Alien Exposed. First of all, who is to be the judge? If you are the judge, no one will ever refute the book's message. The reason? You have already interpreted all the Scriptures that will be used against you in such a way as to nullify any opposing argument, It all boils down - not, as you suppose, to Scripture- but to Scripture interpretation.
Sam Harris, a. widely known and hard-core atheist, recently made this offer: He would give 10,000 dollars, he said, to anyone who could prove to him beyond a doubt that there is a God. In the flurry of letters and e-mails and tweets and general hoopla that followed. one man offered to refund the bill dollar for dollar. He said he would give Mr. Harris back his 10,000 dollars if anyone could convince him. Why was he so bold? Perhaps partly to help encourage people to persuade Mr. Harris; but mostly, think, because he knew Harris would not be convinced. You don't win a name when your opponent sets up the board and plays according to his own rules.
As for Mr. Harris, he is doing this so he can feel good about himself. He wants to be able to tell God, on judgment day, "I gave you every opportunity to convince me, but you would not. I even begged for it, promising to pay a large sum of money; but you would not. Therefore you are at fault, not me." The problem for Sam Harris is that God is not made to play by our rules, He plays by His own rules, and He will not force anyone to believe anything. And to you, I would say this: If you are in error in your interpretation of Scripture, God will not force you to change. The evidence is always there, waiting for you to rise up and see it; but you have to want to first. Therefore, unless you are really open to seeing things in a different light, your 1,000 dollar reward will do nothing. - no matter how many clear and undisputable proofs are presented to you.
And now let's talk about early Christians and their view of the subject. This is very important, because many of these men sat at the feet of the apostles or the personal disciples of the apostles. If they understood something as foundational as the teachings of Christ in a light different than we did, let me ask you: who is more likely to be in error? I'm not talking about the beliefs of one early Christian. I'm talking about what the early Christians believed, as a whole. Because on this particular subject, before the council of Nicaea, they are united.
There is a wealth of information available on this subject, from the early church fathers. Since I do not have a set of the Ante-Nicene Fathers writings I am using Bercot's Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs as my source. I would encourage you to do some research on your own as well. Let's begin with Irenaeus, an Eastern writer who was taught by Polycarp as a boy. Polycarp was a personal disciple of the apostle John, who served as the bishop of Smyrna for many years. Just for interest's sake, I will quote this paragraph by Irenaeus:
"While I was yet a boy, I saw you in lower Asia with Polycarp..... I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and teach... together with the discourses that he delivered to the people. I can remember also, how he would speak of his familiar relations with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord. I remember how he would call their words to remembrance. Whatever things he had heard from them concerning the Lord, both with regard to His miracles and His teaching, Polycarp would recount them all in harmony with the Scripture - having in that manner received it from the eye-witnesses of the Word of life."
- Irenaeus, c. 180 (Dictionary, p. 526; ANF v. 1, p.569)
Irenaeus was born around 130 AD, and lived to about the year 200. At this time Christianity was still young, and people were still living who had the words of the apostles ringing in their ears. Of course, Irenaeus could have some serious misconceptions; but listen to what he says concerning the Sermon on the Mount:
"With the Lord, not only is the adulterer rejected, but also the person who desires to commit adultery. Not only is the actual murderer considered guilty of having killed another person (to his own damnation), but also the man who is angry with his brother without a reason. Jesus commanded (His followers) not only not to hate men, but also to love their enemies. He commanded them not only not to swear falsely, but not even to swear at all … He commanded...not only not to strike others, but even, when they themselves are struck, to present the other cheek... He commanded not only not to injure their neighbors, nor to do them any evil, but also, when they are dealt with wickedly, to be long-suffering.
-Irenaeus, c. 180 (Dictionary, p. 610; ANF v. 1, p. 408)
Perhaps you would agree one hundred percent with that paragraph, although I hardly see how you could. Do you not believe that there are times when we must injure our neighbors (i.e., in defense of someone else)? Yet Irenaeus does not qualify his statement or the teachings of the Lord in such a way as to allow for that kind of action. Concerning the old (Mosaic) Laws and how it differs from the law we are under today, Irenaeus says this:
"The Lord also showed that certain provisions were enacted for them by Moses on account of their hardness... It was for that reason that they received from Moses this law of divorce, adapted to their hard nature."
-Irenaus, c. 180 (Dictionary, p. 218; ANF v. 1. p. 480)
And Origen fleshes this thought out a little further:
"Some of the laws were written - not as excellent - but as by way of accommodation to the weakness of those to whom the Law was given. For something of this kind is indicated in the words, 'Moses, because of the hardness of your heart, allowed you to put away your wives."
- Origen, c. 245 (Dictionary, p.219; ANF 9.510)
The early Christians saw perfect harmony between the two covenants, yet they made it clear, that laws such as the one just mentioned and more which we will get into later, were specifically for the Israelites and their earthly kingdom. Those laws were necessary for the purpose God had for Israel; but when Jesus came and brought the Kingdom of heaven, they understood quite simply, without any need to build elaborate theologies, that that age was now past along with all of those temporary laws that it takes to hold an earthly kingdom together.
There is a rather lengthy correspondence between Origen and Celsus (a pagan critic), that I will only be able to quote in part, but it's all good, and I'd encourage you to check the rest of it out for yourself:
(Origen) "To those who inquire of us from where we come, or who is our founder, we reply that we have come agreeably to the counsels of Jesus. We have cut down our hostile, insolent, and wearisome swords into plowshares. We have converted into pruning hooks the spears that were formerly used in war. For we no longer take up "sword against nation," nor do we "learn war anymore.," That is because we have become children of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader.
- Origen, c. 248 (Dictionary, p. 678; ANF 4.558)
(Celsus) "'How could God command the Israelites through Moses to gather wealth, to extend their dominion, to fill the earth, to put their enemies of every age to the sword, and to destroy them utterly?... For, on the other hand, His Son, the man of Nazareth, promulgated laws quite opposed to these. He declared that no one can come to the Father who loves power, riches, or glory. Jesus said that to anyone who has given them one blow, they should offer to receive another. So is it Moses or Jesus who taught falsely? When the Father sent Jesus, did He forget the commands He had given to Moses? Or did He change His mind, condemn His own laws, and send forth a Messenger with opposite instructions?....
(Origen's Reply:) "We would observe that it must be impossible for the legislation of Moses, taken literally, to harmonize with the calling of the Gentiles and with their subjection to the Roman government. On the other hand, it would be impossible for the Jews to preserve their civil economy unchanged if they were to embrace the gospel. For Christians could not slay their enemies. Nor could they condemn those who had broken the law to be burned or stoned, as Moses commands.... In the case of the ancient Jews, who had a land and a form of government of their own, to take from them the right of making war upon their enemies, of fighting for their country, of putting to death or other-wise punishing adulterers, murderers, or others who were guilty of similar crimes, would have been to subject them to sudden and utter destruction whenever the enemy fell upon them. For, in that case, their very laws would restrain them and prevent them from resisting the enemy. Yet, that same providence that of old gave the Law, and as now given the gospel of Jesus Christ, has destroyed their city and their temple, not wishing the Jewish state to continue any longer....However, this providence has extended the Christian religion day by day, so that it is now preached everywhere with boldness. And this is in spite of the numerous obstacles that oppose the spread of Christ's teaching in the world. However, since it was the purpose of God that the nations should receive the benefits of Christ's teaching, all the devices of men against Christians have been brought to nothing. For the more that kings, rulers, and peoples have persecuted them everywhere, the more Christians have increased in number and grown in strength."
-Origen, c. 248 (Dictionary, p. 679; ANF 4.617-621)
If we are heretics, it is not a new heresy. Obviously Origen was as full of confusion and deception as we are. And here's the interesting thing: He believed the same as we do concerning the New Kingdom of Christ which makes the Old Kingdom of the Jews along with all of its national, "earthly government" laws obselete; but he had no sympathy for the gnostics. Strange! If he lived today, you wouldn't hesitate to classify him as a gnostic; but he was not accused of that by the orthodox Christians of his day.
"We refute those who think that the father of our Lord Jesus Christ is a different God from Him who gave the answers of the Law to Moses, or commissioned the prophets."
-Origen, c. 225 (Dictionary, p. 308; ANF 4.275)
The early Christians of the first two to three centuries after Christ saw the Kingdom of God as the central focus of their everyday lives, and the beautiful fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophets foretold. If you would have accused them of being slow of heart to hear all the teachings of the prophets and obey them - scorning them for some whacky interpretation of Jesus' words which puts them at odds with Moses- they would have looked at you with compassion and said, "I see you don't understand. You, in all your zeal for Moses and the prophets, have missed the entire point of them. We read the Law and the Prophets, and we see them all coming to glorious fulfillment in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Can't you see the beautiful fulfillment of the prophecies of a new age? Can't you see how the glorious revelation of the Kingdom of God has finally been made known to us? Once you get a glimpse of that, then the entire picture begins to come together. Suddenly the old laws of Moses and the words of the prophets make sense in a new way. They were all pointing to this! Don't you see? Sadly, in your zeal to harmonize the teachings of Christ with those of Moses, you missed the point of both of them. No, it is not us who are slow of heart to hear the prophets. We hear them and rejoice that at last they have been revealed to us. We live as if they meant what they said."
"The new covenant that brings back peace and the law that gives life have gone forth over the whole earth, as the prophets said: ‘For out of Zion will go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and he will rebuke many people; and they will break down their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and they will no longer learn to fight.’...These people (i.e., Christians) formed their swords and war-lances into plowshares,...that is, into instruments used for peaceful purposes. So now, they are unaccustomed to fighting. When they are struck, they offer also the other cheek.
-Irenaeus, c. 180 (Dictionary, p.676; ANF 1.512)
I have quoted just a few early Christian writers, but that is not because they are the only ones who defend this position. Nothing could be further from the truth, Hermas, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Theonas of Alexandria, Lactantius, Tatian,. Athenagoras, Cyprian, Hippolytus, and Arnobius are a few more names among the many who speak out in defense of the simple, yet profound, words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. I would love to copy all their writings on the subject for you here, but it would be a big job. Still, I encourage your do the research for yourself if you have any doubts about what I'm saying. The facts are not hidden. I anticipate that you will be quick to point out obscure passages that seem to contradict the general voice of the early church in this matter, but those are precious few; and upon closer inspection they produce absolutely no proofs against the united, orthodox position of the church in this matter. Does this make sense to you? If the early church understood the Bible as you do, we should be seeing clear teaching from writers all over explaining how Jesus' words about loving one's enemies and not returning evil for good apply strictly to interpersonal relationships; then they should go on to explain how and when it is okay to resist with force. But all we hear them saying is that it is never okay to resist with force. How strange! Did they all fall into apostasy and deception so fast? And what a strange apostasy to fall into, by people who loved the Old Testament Scriptures and quoted them continually.
Tertullian is often cited as being okay with military service, as he says in that one obscure passage, "We serve in the military with you." But I ask you to do an honest study of the writings of Tertullian and see if you still believe, when you're done, that he had any sympathy whatsoever for warfare.
"We willingly yield ourselves to the sword. So what wars would we not be both fit and eager to participate in (even against unequal forces), if in our religion it were not counted better to be slain than to slay?"
-Tertullian, c. 197 (Dictionary, p. 677; ANF 3.45)
"Now inquiry is made about the point of whether a believer may enter into military service .....A man cannot give his allegiance to two masters - God and Caesar...How will a Christian man participate in war? In fact, how will he serve (in the military) even in peace without a sword? For the Lord has taken the sword away."
-Tertullian, c. 200 (Dictionary, p.677; ANF 3.73)
"Nation will not take up sword against nation, and they will no more learn to fight." Who else, therefore, does this prophecy apply to, other than us? For we are fully taught by the new law, and therefore observe these practices.... The teaching of the new law points to clemency. It changes the primitive ferocity of swords and lances to tranquility. It remodels the primitive execution of war upon the rivals and enemies of the Law into the peaceful actions of plowing and cultivating the land.
-Tertullian, c.. 197 (Dictionary, p.677; ANF 3.154)
Now, as to what Tertullian meant when he said,. "We serve in the military with you," I can only interpret in light of all the other things he said on the subject. He is supposed to have written that passage around 197, which places it right in the same time frame as all these other arguments against war or violent retaliation of any kind.
Later, around the year 211, Tertullian makes a statement which I believe clears up the problem:
"Of course, if faith comes later and finds someone already occupied with military service, their case is different. For example, there is the instance of those whom John (the Baptist) received for baptism, and of those most faithful centurions. I mean the centurion whom Christ approved, and the centurion whom Peter instructed. Yet, at the same time, when a man has become a believer and faith has been sealed, there must be either an immediate abandonment of the military office, which has been the course of many - or else all sorts of quibbling will have to be resorted to in order to avoid offending God. And Such quibbling is not allowed even outside of military service."
-Tertullian, c. 211 (Dictionary, p.682; ANF 3.100)
In the Apostolic Tradition (c. 200), concerning persons coming to baptism, Hippolytus writes:
"A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate-who wears the purple must resign or be rejected. If an applicant or a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God.
(Apostolic Tradition 16)
The early Christian church was a powerful witness to people all over the empire - from wealthy slave owners to slaves to prominent politicians to quiet farmers in the country. Any man who experienced the gripping power of the gospel found himself being forced to make radical changes in the way he lived his life. Soldiers were no exception. When men who were enlisted in the imperial army felt the call of Jesus Christ, they were suddenly in a very hard spot. It seems as if they had only two options- either try to live as Christ would have you live in the military, which meant you must promise never to kill anyone and never to take an oath and to keep yourselves free from idolatry- a pretty tall order for a military ran, but not always entirely impossible, since the military during the time of the Pax Romana was rarely involved in active fighting or, the other option was to resign, knowing that you probably just signed your death sentence. Begging to be excused as a conscientious objector simply wasn't an option.
Obviously, it appears there were mixed feelings about which option was the better one. I would tend to agree with Tertullian that staying in the military was a compromise that required lots of "quibbling" to make sure you weren't overstepping your bounds as a Christian. Still, I’m sure if their hearts were earnestly turned to God, He had grace for them. I am sure in no position to judge the decisions of my fathers in the faith of two millennia ago. I tremble sometimes to think what they might say if they were to rise up in judgment of our generation.
The point I want to impress upon you above all, is this: A child in the faith, reading the writings of those early church fathers, would have no doubts about where they stood on whether or not it was okay to use force against someone to their hurt or injury, in order to protect oneself, one's family, or one's country. The only person I know of who could read those writings and cone up with a different idea is perhaps a college professor or a very learned, intelligent man with preconceptions which force him to invent explanations against the obvious. But not a child. There is too little guile in one who is a child in the faith, for them to be able to get around the simple facts.
You have made me think a lot, Mark, and I thank you for that. If I had turned to the writings of the early Christians and found there a compelling witness to see the Bible as you see it, I would've had some really deep second thoughts about the way we believe. As it is, however, the witness is so overwhelmingly, compellingly in our favor that I would have to be very foolish indeed, to desire to part ways with them and adopt a new view.
And now, there are a few more things I should address that you wrote about in your last letter to me;
1. You say that Jesus, since he quoted Moses' law about stoning children who curse their parents, obviously felt this law was still valid. I say you are correct. The law was still the standard for them at that time. The old was not obselete until the new was established... And you're right also, that there was a period of several years of transition before the new was fully understood and established. Customs centuries old do not die quickly; but God in His perfect wisdom arranged the course of events perfectly, so that transition could be made. Jesus was accusing them of not keeping the law that was delivered to them. He spoke out in anger many times against those who had corrupted God's law and made it of no effect. Then He revealed to any who could receive it the Kingdom of Heaven, which brought a new standard, and a new way of life. To turn back now to the old law, after the new has been established, would be to scorn the new and say it is no better.
2. You say that the reason Jesus was not able to condemn the adulteress of John 8 was because there were no witnesses. This is a very weak argument at best. We are told that she was caught in the very act. Jesus did not tell them, "Whoever among you are the witnesses, cast the first stone." He made them all very acutely aware of their own sin in some way- perhaps by what He wrote on the ground, I don't know-whatever it was, they recognized that they were just as guilty as she was, and they crept away in shame. Jesus was showing them here a principle deeper than the principle of justice. He was not despising the law- He was showing them that there is a righteousness which goes far deeper than the letter of the law. Furthermore, we are never told in the Old Testament that the witnesses must be blameless; all we are told is that there must be more than one, and their testimony must be true.
3. I said that when Jesus cried out on the cross, "It is finished!" that covered a lot of things: The Old Covenant; the law and the prophets; His own teaching; and God's great sacrifice. You said the only part of that that wasn't rank heresy was God's great sacrifice. Perhaps I didn't use the right words there. I think maybe you heard me saying something different than I actually intended. What I meant to say was that the age, the dispensation of the law and the prophets was over - it was finished as in "brought to a close." The Old Covenant was finished as in "fulfilled; completed." Jesus' teaching that He gave here on earth, while in the flesh, was finished as in John 17:4: "I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given he to do." I did not mean that Jesus would never continue to teach us anything, through His spirit. I meant that His own life's work as "the Son of Man," which the Father sent Him here to fulfill, was fulfilled. And that brings us to a very important point. Jesus was telling His Father that He had finished His work before He ever went to the cross. This is so important, because it exposes the heresy of believing that the only reason Jesus came to earth was to die for me so that I wouldn't have to go to hell. No, Jesus came to establish a Kingdom! That was His life's work, from beginning to end. He did not come to earth to bear all of God's wrath in our place, so we wouldn't have to go to hell. He came to earth to reconcile all of creation to Himself, and His death and resurrection was the seal, the crowning cap of His work; but it was by no means all of His work. Those who believe that Jesus simply came to pay the debt for their sins have missed the whole picture- they can't see the Kingdom!
This letter will overlap a lot with the response we give in PLAIN THINGS, as a lot of the stuff we say there will be for a wider audience. You have my permission to post this on your website as long as you post the whole thing, word for word.
Thank you for your patience.