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Alpha and Omega Ministries – A Personal Reflection

In the year 1988, at the age of sixteen, I stumbled into a class called Witnessing to Mormons. Our church was a fairly large church in the Phoenix area and on Wednesday nights there were numerous options for youth. After attending several of them, I found the youth-oriented options to be fun, but not overly satisfying. I was not overly sure what I was looking for, as I was only 16 years old, but it seemed to me that the classes that only addressed dating, peer-pressure, and similar youth-oriented topics were missing something even more fundamental, but I could not quite figure it out. As I looked through the Wednesday class options, I saw “Witnessing to Mormons” by someone I had never even heard of (and in such a large church, I knew a lot of people). I had already read several books on Mormonism by the Tanners and some others, but I wanted to be able to ask questions.

Sitting in that class, I found out that almost all of my questions were answered long before I could even ask them. Answers to questions I never even had were answered – I was amazed at the knowledge and clarity and, most of all, the substantive teaching. The teacher was Rich Pierce, and I wanted to absorb everything he knew about the subject.

I was disappointed when I walked in a few weeks later and another teacher was going through the material. I was hoping to hear from Rich Pierce again, but I thought I would give this guy a chance. Again, I was simply awestruck at the level of knowledge, the command of Scripture, and the ease by which Mormon arguments that tripped me up were easily and soundly dismantled. My heart was afire! I did not think it was possible to exceed Rich Pierce’s understanding of these topics, but this man had. His name was James White.

Suddenly, I realized that this was a Christian ministry that took Scriptural study and the preaching of the Gospel very seriously, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it in some way. It turned out that Alpha and Omega Ministries was planning to witness to the Mormons in Mesa during their Easter Pageant. I jumped at such an opportunity, as I enjoyed sharing my faith. I continued to study, I listened to as many tapes of debates, lectures, and studies from this ministry as I could get my hands on.

The Witnessing to Mormons class even had role playing, using the best arguments that the Mormons had and required the class to draw upon what it had learned in order to articulate the faith clearly and compellingly. Mr. White (as he was before he received his doctorate) prefaced the Role Playing section by saying the following (paraphrased from memory), “Role playing is useful in preparing you to address the best arguments the Mormons have so that you can present to them the Gospel of Christ. We are not here to defeat an opponent, win an argument, or tear down a belief system. We must have a redemptive purpose. Our desire must be that they hear the true Gospel and that they believe in the true God and the true Savior. If that is not your purpose, this entire class is not for you.” Years later, Rich Pierce told me that one of the founding members of the ministry, Mike Beliveau, said something similar when he was teaching the same class.

My first time out passing tracts, I was a quick-trigger with a Gatlin gun of Bible verses ready to be used, and a teenage-level irreverence to go with it. I was placed with Mike Belliveau on the east gate of the Mormon Temple. I doubt that after all these years, he even remembers our time there, but more than once he had to gently, but firmly, chide me for my manners. “Watch the zingers”, he would say. “Mike, if you don’t love these people, you are no good to them, no matter how many verses you give them.” “Mike, you are not the Holy Spirit.” These rebukes silently hurt my pride, but taught me that I was relying far too much on myself to argue men into the kingdom of God. Suddenly, a lesson my father had earlier taught me finally sunk in (I had once asked him why cult groups do not see the truth in Scriptures). He told me, “It is not an intellectual issue. It is a sin issue.” I realized that James, Mike and Rich were putting everything they taught in class to practice. I had a lot to learn. I had to remember that it is God who saves, not my persuasive words of speech.

Decades have passed and I am now Vice-President of Alpha and Omega Ministries. In all those years, the message, method and approach has remained refreshingly consistent. Dr. White has and still expects that our ministry be in the business of tearing down false teachings, but always with a redemptive hope, and always building up with the truth of the Gospel. There are a lot of lost folk in this world, and a lot of people who have placed their hope in a false Gospel. Our ministry exists to proclaim the Gospel to those caught up in deception, to provide pastors and laymen with the tools to defend their faith and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It further exists to encourage Christians to patiently and peacefully engage this culture with the Gospel.

By the grace of God, we hope to continue in this effort until the Lord relieves us of duty.

Review: God Without Passions: A Primer by Samuel Renihan

When addressing the wicked, God says to them after recounting their continued transgressions, “These things you have done and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.” (Ps. 50:21)

As I read A God Without Passions: A Primer, by Samuel Renihan, I was struck over and over by that phrase in the verse above, “You thought I was just like you…”. The book deals with the subject of divine impassibilty, which simply means that God does not have passions or emotions. It is a subject that is often confusing to many. Some have encountered the doctrine before, but it was never sufficiently explained, and without the proper groundwork to understand the doctrine, let it fall by the wayside, undeveloped. Some have never heard of this doctrine before and therefore conflate the human experience of emotions with God’s perfections. Renihan’s singular focus is to exalt God by showing the vast difference between the creature and the creator. God accommodates man’s deficiencies and frailties in order to graciously communicate with him. This includes language. But, because some theologians have not exercised clear thinking on this matter, they have muddled the proper distinctions of emotions and perfections and have caused many to think of God in a very human way. God is thought to have emotions in the same way that men do. Men think God is altogether just like them. Does God love in the same exact way that a man loves? Is there a clear and direct one to one correspondence to love from God and love from Man? Renihan explores this in a clear and succinct manner.

Renihan’s writing style is both pastoral and didactic. He builds one concept upon another so that nothing is left dangling in mid-air and a proper foundation is set to examine the next area. He writes in an easily understood manner, and whenever he cites older theologians (Reformers, Puritans and Baptists), he clarifies where the language of the time might impede modern understanding. He clearly articulates the challenges of understanding this doctrine and why it is often confusing for some. At the same time, he removes the confusion and presents to us a glorious God who is not subject to the whims of emotive affections, but is a God who is enthroned upon his own perfections.

The subject matter is eminently important, for much poor preaching and doctrine has come forth by confusing the nature of creaturely emotions and divine perfections and imposing the creaturely emotions upon the divine creator. In this primer (which suggests that there is a more in-depth study forthcoming) Renihan seeks to explain these differences and demonstrate the implications of ascribing to God the humanly emotions. Indeed, Renihan trumpets the words of the Psalmist as an admonition to the church, “You thought I was just like you” throughout his work. If God is immutable, then subjecting him to experiences of emotion suggests that his perfections were not perfect and were in need of improving. Thus, the creation improved upon the creator. Doctrine has implications in areas we often least expect it, and hence, it is important not to become undisciplined when it comes to thinking of our great God and Savior.

I highly recommend this book. It can be useful for study groups (each chapter has questions that can be answered from the associated chapter). It is not expensive or lengthy and can be read in an evening.

To Him Be the Glory!

One of the first tasks given to Gideon by the Angel of the Lord was to tear down his own father’s altar to Baal and to use the wood from the Asherah that was beside it as firewood for a burnt offering:

Now on the same night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it;
26 and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.”
(Jdg 6:25-26)

I have always found this to be rather interesting especially in light of the fact that in his first encounter with the Angel of the Lord, Gideon was able to reference great and mighty acts of Yahweh which he had heard from the fathers among whom would have been his own father:

Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Jdg 6:13)

How did Gideon hear about this? Where did this history come from? Would it not come from his own father?

It is truly enlightening as to the idolatrous nature of man to behold the ease by which he can set the holy and the profane side-by-side, on equal footing, without any sense of contradiction. The fathers passed down stories of how Yahweh proved that the gods of Egypt were not gods only to turn and bow the knee once again to those things which are also by nature not gods.

I contemplate this passage from time to time to remind myself that it is very easy to couch our language with religious terms, to cite with precision Scripture, confessions, doctrinal statements, and the like and yet at root be an idolater. I do not negate the importance of such precision, only to remember that theological precision is not antidote to idolatry if the theological belief is not one that is held in faith and does not promote reverence. True theology melts the heart, for it is in sound theology where one meets his Lord and King.

I also remind myself that if those who hold to sound theology can nevertheless have an idolatrous heart, how much more so will those be who have unsound doctrine as their guiding light? It is the nature of man to be a lover of self, and to desire his own good and pleasure above God.

With that thought, consider the recent video making the rounds which has Victoria Osteen making some very fantastic claims regarding the nature of worship and its purpose. You really must hear it for yourself, but here is a section of the clip:

I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy.

We’re not doing it for God. Really. We are really doing it for ourselves because God’s greatest pleasure comes from the pleasure of His creation.

Ponder that for a moment. God’s *greatest* pleasure is when we are happy. What would he ever do without us?

This is not the Christian mindset. Of course, it attempts to sound Christian by declaring that by doing that which pleases us we actually please God — after all, we do want to please God, right? So, Osteen sort of gives us permission to seek our own pleasure in order to please God. Oh, I know, she tells us that we should “obey God” but the motive for doing so is not the pleasure of God primarily. It is the pleasure of man primarily and the pleasure of God as a secondary means (only when we are happy is God happy). What Osteen here offers us is a religion that is really about Man by means of God. That is to say, while they speak of God in the most flattering terms and speak with elevated vocabulary, the ultimate aim is the glorification and happiness of man. God is a motivating factor, but not the end and purpose of our being, we are. So long as they say that this is somehow for God and his glory they believe that they have done sufficient worship and reverence to His name. But, when one distills all the rhetoric and emotive words, it comes down to being all about man and his pleasure.

This is truly a far cry from the message of the Apostle Paul who declared:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
(Rom 11:33-36)

For whom are all things? To whom belongs the glory forever? True worship, if it can be called true and proper worship, has as its aim the glory of the Lord. Its primary purpose is the exaltation of God. “Help us, O God of our salvation,” declared Asaph, “for the glory of Your name; And deliver us and forgive our sins for Your name’s sake.” (Psa 79:9) Even pleading for their own good, safety, and salvation, the motivation was for the glory of His name and for His name’s sake.

When we consider the words and thoughts of Victoria Osteen, we must recognize that this expression is the core of their theology. Indeed, and quite often unknowingly, this man-centeredness is the theology of much of what is considered to be theology today. Would that Christians examine the motives of their worship, to see whether or not its primary concern is the majesty of God or the good of man. B. B. Warfield, if I may paraphrase him, once described Reformed Theology as the apprehension of God in majesty. This is the core of Reformed worship. We declare with one voice the words of Paul, with no sense if irony or contradiction, “To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

In the Fullness of Time

As I was doing some sermon preparation recently, I caught myself reading through some sermons by G. Campbell Morgan (who, I must say, was was an excellent orator).  I was struck by his development of the role of Caesar Augustus in the how it came about that Jesus should be born in Bethlehem.

He began by observing the greatness and majesty of the first Roman Emperor, emphasizing the “peace” (here defined as the absence of war) that he ushered in. He spoke of how Augustus rejected the title of dictator because it was not permanent enough. He rejected the title of King because it was not grand enough. He was given the title of Augustus, therefore, as a title of religious reverence — a step toward the claim of divinity that was eventually bestowed upon him after death.

Campbell developed this so that he could look closely at the verse of Luke 2:1 where Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that the whole world should be taxed. At this point, he cited from Micah 5:2-4:

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”Therefore He will give them up until the time When she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren Will return to the sons of Israel. And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth.

Observing that this occurred many centuries before Caesar Augustus was to ascend as emperor, I spent some time thinking through the history from the time of this prophecy to the birth of Christ.

At the time of this prophecy, Rome was barely on the historical radar, having been only recently founded (accepting Varro’s traditional date for Rome’s founding). The dominant power at the time would have been Assyria.

Assyria, says Isaiah, was merely a tool in the hand of God to chasten the rebellious people of God. When the chastening was done, and as a result of its cruelty, bloodthirstiness, and arrogance, God destroyed Assyria. Nahum records the destruction as being utter. So profound was the destruction that a mere three hundred years later, an entire Greek army could travel through the region and have no idea they were in the area of Nineveh.

God had raised up the Babylonians and the Medes to destroy Assyria. The Babylonians took God’s people captive and brought them into exile. God, then raised up the Persians to conquer the Babylonians and let the Jews return and rebuild the temple.

Then God raised up the Greeks to conquer Persia. And God raised up Rome to conquer Greece. Then Caesar Augustus ascended to power as the first Emperor of Rome and at that moment, at that time, declared that the whole world should be taxed.

So, why did Caesar, the most powerful man in the known world, send out the decree? Because “this…has been written by the prophet”.  Because “the heart of the King is in the hand of the Lord as rivers of water — he turns it wherever he wills”. Because the fullness of time had come, and for no other reason. It was God’s sovereign design, and not that of men.

“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman…”

Wilhelmus à Brakel on Sanctification and Holiness

Wilhelmus à Brakel was one of the most influential men to come out of the Dutch Further Reformation. He wrote with a scholarly mind and a pastoral heart. He exemplified the maxim: Correct doctrinal thinking leads to godly living. His work, The Christian’s Reasonable Service is both challenging in its doctrine, and convicting in its piercing observations.

I had been reading his section on Sanctification and Holiness, when I read these very rich and poignant observations about the “old man”. I thought them worthy of posting. You can find an electronic version of all 4 volumes at this site.

The Functioning of the Old Man in the Believer

The old nature stirs up to the commission of sin.

(1) Sometimes it does so by violent assaults. The lusts are so agitated and are stirring so vehemently that there is no time to think upon the fear of God. Even if the fear of the Lord surfaces, the lusts increase so forcefully in strength that any good inclinations are immediately extinguished. Thus, sin is committed before one can think about anything else, the heart being carried about as chaff in the wind.
(2) Sometimes the old nature seeks some rest; to be so intently focused upon God tires the body and the mind, so that it appears impossible to live in such a manner. The old nature, in seeking some rest and relaxation, begins initially to think upon natural things; however, the lusts of the flesh begin to stir, and the thoughts pertaining to natural things become sinful, due to one‘s ego entering the picture. A person will begin to build castles in the sky, imagining himself to have possessions, to be in a position of prominence, of being honored, and of having riches. Even though he knows that he will never attain to this, he nevertheless entertains himself with such imagery. From this point the old nature proceeds to reflect upon that sin which most readily presents itself be it immorality, a lust for money, or pride. Being thus drawn away from his steadfastness, he commits sin to the degree that the moment permits, and if the opportunity were not lacking, he would fall into sins which he never thought himself to be capable of. Or, if the opportunity is there, he will fall into sin from which he thought to have been delivered be it in a natural sense or by grace.
(3) Sometimes the old nature gains in strength due to recklessness. A person will bring himself into situations, knowing from experience that they have repeatedly ensnared him. This can either be solitude, or the company of certain people, yet he is of the
opinion that he will now be able to abstain from the previous sins. In making use of the opportunity, however, he is inclined to it before realizing it, and sin having found an opening must proceed; the sin which is then at hand gains the upper hand. Contact with grease cannot but leave a stain.1
(4) Sometimes the old nature presents something as being beneficial but conceals its sinfulness. It presents it as a necessity, as being delightful, as being advantageous, or as being honest, etc. Sometimes it is presented as a white lie, as being a necessity
(not being able to do business otherwise), as being an honest deed, or as something which would otherwise prevent you from intermingling with people in a civil manner. Sometimes it suggests that one will thereby come into a position, in which he will be able to do more good subsequently and similar pretenses, which are not advanced in a premeditated manner, but suddenly present themselves at a given opportunity. And thus, man takes more liberty or at least he does not resist sin as much, and the old nature breaks through, one sin begetting another.

Secondly, the old nature is likewise always engaged in keeping man from that which is good.
(1) There will be no time for one to engage in his godly exercises of praying, reading, singing, and meditation. Therefore these exercises either do not occur at all, or only in a casual manner to satisfy the conscience. It is as if he is rushed, even though he frequently would have the time.
(2) At another time one will postpone the matter, determining to do it, but to do it in a more quiet and composed manner; certain things first have to be accomplished. In the meanwhile time slips away or the Spirit has departed, and one does not get to it, or it is void of all spirituality.
(3) Then again the task appears as being exceptionally difficult; one looks up against it, and seeks to avoid and postpone it. Having burdened himself with many difficulties, he approaches the duty as a lazy person and, so to speak, crawls forward. It is too difficult and one is not fit to do it.
(4) Again he thinks that all that he does is in vain, that God does not hear, that one shall not obtain it, and he suggests to himself that he shall not obtain anything in the future anyhow. Our words do not carry any weight with others; we shall be put to shame, and our careful walk will only be construed as hypocrisy.
(5) Or one will try to compromise. The way to heaven is not so narrow as one generally claims. Would all those perish who are not so precise? No! It is not contrary to godliness to have determination, and to be courteous and cheerful. Thus, the old nature will prevent one from making vigorous progress and from carefully following the footsteps of Jesus.

Thirdly, if the old nature cannot keep man away from that which is good, she will endeavor to spoil that which is good.
(1) At one time she will cause the thoughts to wander from one thing to the next.
(2) At another time there will be good thoughts which, however, will not be applicable at the moment. They are only fit to break the resolution toward that good thing which at that moment is to be performed.
(3) Again, ulterior motives and our ego can enter the picture which will hinder a person in his duty, causing him to lose his resolve and the stimulus to be removed; thus the purity of the duty is contaminated.
(4) Then there will be thoughts that all is devoid of the Spirit and but the work of nature yes, even hypocrisy.
(5) At another time the atheistic heart and unbelief come to the surface, which contaminate the performance of spiritual duty and instead of being refreshed by the performance of one’s duty, there is consternation and abhorrence that he has performed this good duty in such an evil manner. And thus the old nature agitates within.